As one of the most photogenic cities in the United States and perhaps in the world, it is only fitting that San Francisco would contain some of the best photo galleries as well. From internationally recognized galleries, to the local gems, here are the ten best photo galleries in San Francisco.
Known worldwide for its art collection, the Fraenkel Gallery has been recognized as one of the best photography galleries in the world. The owner, Jeffrey Fraenkel, is a huge photography enthusiast and this passion is easily seen throughout his space. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, and Fraenkel himself will be there a majority of the time.
Opened in 2010, the large space at Pier 24 Photography houses the collection of the Pilara Foundation. The photographs include portraiture, contemporary Bay Area photographers, and historical images of San Francisco. The seven exhibitions that have been in place since the opening of the gallery have seen various themes explored in great depth. Pier 24 is open to the public during the week and is free, but you must make an appointment first.
One of the many galleries located at 49 Geary Street, the Robert Koch Gallery opened in 1979 and features photography from the 19th century onward. The gallery aims to “define and participate in the evolving understanding of the history of photography,” and the photographs reflect that. From lesser-known contemporary artists to the masters of the 19th and 20th century, this gallery has a wide and phenomenal selection.
RayKo Photo Center, San Francisco | Courtesy of RayKo Gallery
Located in the SOMA/South Beach area, the RayKo Photo Center provides both photo services, including a traditional darkroom and digital labs, and an impressive collection of local work alongside well-known pieces. Since the center provides a variety of facilities, there are many opportunities for local artists to have their work presented at RayKo, and it is a wonderful gallery to discover new up-and-coming artists. Plus, the stunning space alone means it’s worth a visit.
Having closed their retail space, the Robert Tatt Gallery is open by appointment only for private sales, but their inventory remains one of San Francisco’s best. Showing mainly 20th century American and European works, the gallery also has a collection of 19th century and contemporary photographs, as well as vintage pictures of San Francisco. From salon photographers to human form photographs, the gallery has a large collection of fine art, which can also be viewed and purchased online.
A member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD), the Scott Nichols Gallery is a modern and friendly location. The gallery has been open for over two decades and houses contemporary photographs, as well as one of the largest private collections of Brett Weston photos in the world. The collection also includes work by Ansel Adams and Brett Weston’s father, Edward Weston. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, and can also be visited by appointment.
As another gallery focused on local artists and artistic development, SF Camerawork’s exhibitions encourage San Francisco’s up-and-coming artists to achieve their full potential. The gallery is a partner of the Baum Foundation and every other year the gallery features the art of the winner of the Baum Award for An Emerging American Photographer for two months. It is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, by appointment.
Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange | Courtesy of the Gendell Gallery
A private gallery that focuses on vintage and contemporary photography, Gendell Gallery has a phenomenal selection of artwork. The photographs range from figurative and classical portraiture to social-documentary works; and it also has various special exhibitions for photographers, including a current exhibition for Dorothea Lange. It can be visited by appointment, Tuesday through Saturday.
Although the Jenkins Johnson Gallery isn’t solely limited to photography, it is one of four galleries in San Francisco that are part of AIPAD (all of which are on this list). Karen Jenkins-Johnson was formerly the President of the San Francisco Art Dealers Association and her expertise is clear. The work at this gallery are all contemporary and feature photographers such as Gordon Parks and Roy DeCarava. It can be visited by the public Tuesday through Saturday.
Previously known as Modernbook, Themes + Projects will be a part of The Minnesota Street Project. Although the gallery is not formally open yet, appointments can be made to view the pieces that it houses. The range of photographic themes in Themes + Projects is extraordinary; showcasing mixed media photos to naturalistic photos. Add this gallery to your must-visit list.