Thomas R. Schiff: The Poetics of Distortion

Two-part exhibition and book release

Curator of these Exhibits: Dave Christensen, Director of Harvey Milk Photo Center




Harvey Milk Photo Center

Feb 15 – March 31, 2019
Opening reception: Friday, Feb 15, 6:30-9PM
50 Scott Street, San Francisco



SFArtsED @ Minnesota Street Project

Feb 16 – March 2, 2019
Opening reception: Saturday, Feb 16, 5-8PM
1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco



Harvey Milk Photo Center

Monday: closed
Tue-Thur: 3:00pm-9:30pm
Friday: closed
Saturday: 10:00am-5:30pm
Sunday: 11:00am-5:00pm

Whiz Burger, chromogenic print, 38” x 10 1/2”, 2012, Thomas R. Schiff

The Harvey Milk Photo Center and SFArtsED Gallery are pleased to announce a book release and two-part exhibition of work by Cincinnati-based photographer Thomas R. Schiff. The Poetics of Distortion: Panoramic Photographs of the San Francisco Bay Area presents familiar icons in San Francisco’s built and natural environment from a comprehensive perspective. Thomas R. Schiff’s latest work will be on view in February 2019 at the Harvey Milk Photo Center and the SFArtsED Gallery at Minnesota Street Project. The simultaneous exhibitions will present separate collections, encouraging viewers to both locations to experience the artist’s expansive vision. Both openings are free and open to the public.

In The Poetics of Distortion, Thomas R. Schiff marshals his technical mastery to convey a lifelong fascination with the San Francisco Bay Area’s unique visual aesthetic. Stately structures including Coit Tower and Oakland’s Paramount Theater appear to ripple across Schiff’s viewfinder, suggesting movement where there is none. Schiff’s mastery of panoramic techniques produces thrilling and unexpected views that refresh our perspective of sites known worldwide for their dramatic beauty.

Panoramic photography is a specialized technique in which a camera rotates in a broad sweep, capturing a continuous image of the world around it. Expanding the human field of vision, it allows us to see what is in front of us, to either side, and behind us, all at once.

Living in a densely image-saturated world, we are accustomed to seeing landmarks in our physical or virtual environments from particular perspectives, especially the scenic points that make the San Francisco Bay Area so appealing. Schiff’s elegant, vibrantly rendered images interrupt that easy cognitive shorthand. He invites us to see what is familiar in public spaces—SFMOMA’s main lobby or the plaza that fronts the Contemporary Jewish Museum—from a different perspective. Through his lens, we are encouraged to recognize distortion as a generative looking opportunity, to see what we think we know anew.

Schiff studied photography under Clarence White, Jr. and Arnold Gassan while earning a BBA degree from Ohio University in 1970. A photographer since childhood, he has continued working in various photographic formats for the past forty years. His early work featured black and white images focused on architectural detail, storefront facades and windows. Schiff began working in color panoramic photography in 1994 making use of a Hulcherama 360 panoramic camera.

Paramount Theatre – Oakland, chromogenic print, 38 in. x 10.5  in., 2007, Thomas R. Schiff

Schiff’s new monograph The Poetics of Distortion: Panoramic Photographs of the San Francisco Bay Area is designed by MendeDesign and comprises 117 panoramic photos, essays on photography, perspective, and architecture by Susan Ehrens, Wendy Lesser, and Tim Culvahouse, and an author interview by Dave Christensen.


About the Artist

Thomas R. Schiff is a Cincinnati-based photographer. He has published nine books: Panoramic Cincinnati (1999), Panoramic Ohio (2002), Panoramic Parks (2005), Vegas 360° (2009), Wright Panorama (2010), Prospect (2012), Columbus, Indiana (2013), Virginia 360° (2015), Northern Kentucky University (2015), The Library Book (2017), Wright in Ohio (2017), and Cincinnati Panorama (2017). Schiff helped establish Images Gallery in Cincinnati in 1980 and, in 2010, he co-founded FotoFocus, a non-profit organization created to celebrate and champion photography and lens-based art.

About Harvey Milk Photo Center

Celebrating over 75 years, the Harvey Milk Photo Center is the oldest and largest community wet darkroom in the United States, and is associated with the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department. Its program offers over 300 classes, workshops and lectures each year.

About SFArtsED

The San Francisco Arts Education Project, known familiarly as SFArtsED, was founded in 1968 to enrich the lives of children by facilitating hands-on participation in the visual and performing arts, it supports artist residencies in an array of visual arts, dance, drama, musical theater, world rhythms, and choral expression at some twenty public schools.


Support for this exhibition comes from:


Purchasing the Book at HMPC

The book will be ready to be purchased at Harvey Milk Photo Center starting at the opening reception, Feb 15, 2019, 6:30pm-9pm.

Price: $49.95 + Tax

*We accept Cash or Checks.
*Checks are made out to: SF Parks Alliance, on Memo Line: “HMPC Gallery Lighting Project”.
*We are not set up to mail out books or prints. All purchased prints would be picked up by the buyer after the exhibit is completed.
*All sales transactions will be final and will need to be in person, as we are not able to reserve books and large framed prints without purchase.

Harvey Milk Photo Center Logo

Operation Hours:

Monday: Closed
Tue-Thur: 3pm-10pm
Friday: Closed
Saturday: 10am-6pm
Sunday: 11am-6pm

50 Scott Street, San Francisco, CA

Gallery Hours:

Monday: Closed
Tue-Thur: 3pm-9:30pm
Friday: Closed
Saturday: 10am-5:30pm
Sunday: 11am-5:30pm


Harvey Milk Photo Center Logo