I caught my first San Francisco crane on camera while meandering though Hayes Valley looking for things that teased my eyes. There was something about that giant steel arm swinging over all the small converted houses, jutting up against the clear blue sky. It reminded me ofÂ that old painting of a smoke-billowing steamboat pulling a sailboat in to be dismantled. The painting portrayed the dawn of the industrial era, and in many ways the cranes dotting the San Francisco skyline represent a new era of their own.
It was only three months ago that I photographed my first crane in Hayes Valley, but that one is already long gone. The building it was erecting is getting its final polishing. I found new cranes, though, in the following weeks. I took them apart with my camera, focusing on their joints and hooks or just waiting for the right moment to capture an operator having lunch up high. For me they represented the border between monstrous and beautiful, the lofty aspirations of “new San Francisco” and the bulldozing development it brings.
My obsession grew quickly, and a friend dubbed the expression “crane-spotting” for me. It was appropriate as I’ve been grilling anyone who mentions having seen one. I started to notice that the cranes stayed between Dogpatch and SOMA or the Financial District and Upper Market. Nothing in the Avenues or over the hills. A curious fact of development in San Francisco, if nothing else.