I moved to San Francisco nearly two decades ago, fresh out of high school, with a duffle bag, skateboard and $800 cash. I’ve paid dues to establish myself here and can’t imagine myself living anyplace else. I love everything about The City... the people, sights, sounds, smells, and oddities... all of it, and I never get bored lurkin’ these streets with a camera. ”
Travis Jensen, self-taught photographer, has been roaming the streets of San Francisco for years now. Specializing in candid street scenes, street portraiture and urban landscapes, his extensive work speaks for itself. Street photography at its finest. It all started off with a skateboarding video from Plan B, called Questionable, featuring the legendary SF Embarcadero spot. He had been skating for 12 years prior and he knew there and then that he had to make his way up to the infamous city. Not necessarily to become the next big thing in skateboarding but to be a part of this new movement and contribute any way he could. By way of Milwaukee and as soon as he finished High School, he left and headed to the beautiful city of San Francisco.
Slowly but surely, he started the journey of making a name for himself. Not without any struggles along the way. In his words, “finding a place to live back then was as rare as a 3 dollar bill”, times were rough and the struggle, real. It’s like “pushing a skateboard uphill for 20 years”. That hustle mentality he always had it and you can feel it in his work, he is close to his subjects and that’s what makes his work so appealing and human. The people he photographs are on the same page as he is, struggling, hustling and trying to get by. He approaches his work with the same dignity and empathy of someone who has been through it all, he understands how tough life can get. Not particularly fond of people taking pictures of the less fortunate without any context or interaction with the subject.
“I feel like it’s going for the low hanging fruit, it’s somehow an easy shot someone lying on the street, dying. To me, it’s a little intrusive and exploitive, it doesn’t reveal anything new and It doesn’t do anything for anyone. I feel like street photography in San Francisco isn’t like any city, it’s a little more empathetic and intimate”
Ingrained in skateboard culture, he approaches his surroundings like a skateboarder. “Skateboarding is my first love, it taught me to look at things another way.” Constantly on the look out for a good opportunity to capture the city and its people, exactly like a skater when scoping out spots that the average joe wouldn’t see. Travis Jensen sees things that others don’t. In his own words, “skateboarders and photographers are some the most brutally honest and highly opinionated individuals out there, hands down. It pushes you to go further with your craft. Every photo should be better than the last one, I always try to be different. I like variety, I don’t believe in always doing the same thing. Street photography is a bouquet of candid portraits and urban landscapes. The attention span is so short now that it’s hard to captivate people. That’s why you’re seeing so much “basic” photography, people shift towards things easy to digest. Shit, my favorite photos are often the least popular. I like complexity, attitude, and bravado in a picture, photos with some sort of narrative. I see photography as a baseball ball card collection, you know, one of ones’, rare cards that you want to own and collect..”
Travis finds his inspiration a little everywhere but he is mostly influenced by the skateboarding lifestyle “I still live in 1995 in some aspects of my life, I’m all about 90’s skateboard and 80’s/90’s hip hop.” Surprisingly he doesn’t hang out with a lot of photographers, except from the members of his crew, the SoS Mobb. A collective of about 30 people deep that Travis along with his friend Rasta Dave created in order to get “at risk” youth exposed to photography. “ Replacing guns with cameras” as Dave jokingly points out. He basically runs the operation and they all gather once or twice a week to go around the city taking pictures, have fun, connect and improve their skills. Everybody can join in as long as you’re on some positive vibe. What’s so unique about their movement is that they show San Francisco as it really is, not what you would see in tourists books. Real life by people that has been through it all, a collaborative book is in the making. Shout out to Rasta Dave, Big Vic, Lowkey and the whole SoS Mbb.
When asked about his career, Travis Jensen is humble and lucid on how difficult it is to make it in this game. He started out writing for the SF Chronicle, documenting and writing stories about people in the community, usually artists and skateboarders. He never felt like the photos that were used to illustrate his stories matched his vision so he decided to teach himself everything about photography and that’s where it all started.