Psycho: Portraits of SRO doorways in San Francisco's Tenderloin by Kent Howie

I just recently finished working for Project Open Hand. During five years of delivering food to the critically ill, my destinations would primarily be the single residential occupancy (SRO) hotels in the Tenderloin. During my five years at Project Open Hand, I experienced a lot of death. Sometimes I mistook homemade coffins for bookcases which residents would make for their friends and leave in the hallways and sometimes I stepped over dead bodies while getting off elevators. I even missed a homicidal maniac once because he took a different elevator than me.

In these SRO hotels I became interested in the signs residents would make for their doors to scare off people or warn other people to stay the hell away. These signs were sometimes poignantly sad, ignominious, very petrified and anonymous and somehow always created according to rules that defy comprehension.

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I think in a way the photographs I took of the doorways are similar to a small book by Martin Kippenberger who produced a book called Psycho Buildings in response to the Dusseldorf-based artists of his generation, who used architecture as a metaphor for social conditions and utopian visions of power. These artists believed that the link between architecture and photography often creates the desired effect of mutually enhancing auralization, but Kippenberger found this ridiculous. For that I think Kippenberger would have liked these photographs of the signs on SRO doors. Like the book Psycho Buildings these photos only seem to exist for one particular project—the online zine. It is the context that creates a communicative value.

Photography and article by Kent Howie.