Shortly after moving from the Midwest to Hillcrest in 2010, multimedia artist Thomas Graff responded to an ad on craigslist posted by Olivier Dalle. At the time, Dalle was searching for a photographer to shoot scenes for his second self-published coffee-table book in a series profiling San Diego's neighborhoods. Graff and Dalle hit it off and embarked on a two-year journey, along with local writer Kelly Metz-Matthews, to capture the essence of what's arguably the county's most colorful 'hood. Hillcrest / 92103, like Dalle's first project, La Jolla / 92037, presents images that are intended to resonate with locals.
"This book reflects what it's like to live in Hillcrest," says Graff, whose edgy work wasn't a fit for the photography program at the University of Illinois. "The book isn't so much about businesses, and it's not geared toward tourists. It's more about the people and artists that make Hillcrest what it is."
After switching majors and graduating with a degree in art, Graff packed his bags and moved to California, where, three months later, he was shooting Dalle's book and discovering the collective open-mindedness of Hillcrest, which he calls home.
Graff's sensibilities, and his multiple visual-arts disciplines, are apparent in the book. "I focused more on the symbolism and the conceptual elements of Hillcrest—things that may not be obvious," he says.
A poignant example is a photo that Graff took to represent Green Fresh Florals. The image of a woman's face encircled by flowers is meant to reflect the contemporary, vibrant displays at the florist. "Instead of taking a picture of the inside of the shop and how it's fashioned, I captured the idea behind it," he says.
Another symbolic image was taken last year at the annual Pride Festival.
"It was the first year that active military members organized to march in the gay-pride parade. As men from the Navy walked by, the crowd went crazy. It was a huge moment in history," Graff recalls.
A section of the book is devoted to street fashion, and there's also a focus on Pernicano's, the neighborhood eyesore. This, and more, will be on display at the Hillcrest / 92103 launch party and book signing from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 9, at Planet Rooth Design Haus (3334 Fifth Ave.). The event is free and will include a mini "taste of Hillcrest," catered by the restaurants featured in the book.
Next up for Dalle's coffee-tablebook project is Tijuana, out this fall, and a North Park edition, out sometime in 2014.
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