Souls of San Francisco is a Bay Area-based storytelling and photography project described by Garry Bowden, the creator, as a means of “Chronicling Our Collective Awakening.”
Below, he shares his thoughts on interaction, connection and consciousness, as well as a few of his favorite exchanges:
How did you get started with Souls of San Francisco?
I started about three years ago and was making short films at the time. Short films take several months to put together, and aren’t easy to share with others. This was a way to make art more frequently and get it out to a lot of people.
It’s developed a lot over the years; when I first started, I didn’t know how to take pictures. The first one I thought was really good is a picture of a rabbi in North Beach. It’s very ethereal; he looks like he’s in motion but also has a profound stillness about him.
This awakened me to something deeper in what I was doing, so I went searching for more of it—more of that magical presence.
LIfe is a like costume ball, and our human shell is our costume. But even behind masks we can still recognize our partners—we know their eyes. And so that’s what I do, I go around the city and recognize people inside their shells. It’s like, “I see you in there.”
Every time I interact with someone, it propels me further on my own journey. Someone tells me something I didn’t know, and then I go and pass that on to you, and you go and have a conversation that piques someone else’s interest, and on and on, down the rabbit hole.
“What do you do in the city?”
“I’m a professional wizard.”
“You know…I’ve heard about you. What’s that mean?”
“It means I get to hand-hold people through their transformation. It’s a front-row seat to the experience of the world changing, old cultural beliefs evolving, and life generally improving for everyone. It helps me to be an optimist. I also find that whatever issues my clients want to work on are resonant with the things that are active in my own life. By being a healer, I reinforce and inspire my own healing.”
“How’d you become a wizard?”
“I was led to this work by my own need to heal from a chronic illness. That illness was my teacher. It led me to begin building a toolbox of things that powerfully worked for me. A decade later, I had a collection of excellent tools, an empowering perspective on healing and I was called to share them. “
“What was the illness?”
“About 11 years ago I was diagnosed with HIV. I was in a relationship with someone who wasn’t being honest. But it ended up being a real blessing. I was taken out of easy street immediately. At first it taught me to be humble, and then it taught me to be honest. In the last five years its taught me how to take care of this vessel that carries my soul. I’m now putting my energy into the collective as manifesting a cure.”
“You should give Magic Johnson a ring.”
“I do. That’s where I get my treatments. At ‘Out of the Closet’.”
“Yeah…I’ve seen that place. I always thought it was strange that a clothing store offers free HIV tests.”
“Yeah…that whole store exists to fund his HIV services.”
“Thanks for sharing your story. Would you mind if I put all this on my blog?”
“Well…sure. If you think it would help.”
What have you learned about the art of approaching and interacting with strangers?
I’ve learned things like how how far away to stand, how to place my body, etc. but those are just the technical details. The heart of it is that all people are good. They mirror your energy, so when you’re calm, open and kind, they’ll reflect that.
People just want to love and be loved. We want to be acknowledged.
I often get asked how I get people to tell me such intimate things, and the reason is just that I ask. We can tell when the people we’re talking to are listening and interested. I’m listening. When I talk to others, I just say what I know, and people respond to it. They’ll meet me where I start. If I talk to someone like they’re my friend, they’ll act like they’re my friend.
Eye-gazing and other types of communication are portals to other dimensions. We can open up channels. Like when you look someone in the eyes for a long time, it’s intense and most people look away but if you can maintain it, a portal opens up. Anyone can do this. Being human gives you access.
You do some traveling, right? Do you notice that every different city has a distinct personalities?
I just started traveling on the earth realm, yes. And, oh yeah, definitely. A place is the result of the collective consciousness there. San Francisco is the way it is because we decided it would be. People who come here are really drawn here. You know the chakra system in the body? The earth has chakras, too. People are attracted to different places on the earth based on the energy coming out of that point.
The Bay Area, for instance, is an entry point. People here are very sensitive to subtle energies, we’re open to that. San Francisco is very rooted in the ethereal. It’s definitely a portal.
“Hi! Would you mind if I take your picture?”
“Sure! My name’s Grace. I live in the senior center up on Fillmore. I’m a senior citizen. I’m 72 years old. I’ve lived here since 1972 and I stayed until 1976 when I moved to Richmond because I didn’t want to raise my kids in the projects, but that was before there were all the drugs and foolishness going on out there. Me…I just liked to work, go to church, and raise my kids but a lot of people out there were into that other stuff.”
“How many kids do you have?” “Six, I raised five of them. One was kidnapped when he was six months old. His father took him and told him a bunch of lies. He told him that he was found on a doorstep. He didn’t find out about me til he was 23 years old. Then he came out and met me at the train station. I remember he said he was going to be wearing a Bart Simpson t-shirt, but then it was too cold and everyone had jackets on. But I just went on up to the person I thought looked like my kin and asked, “Are you wearing a Bart Simpson t-shirt?” and he gave me a big hug and said, “You’re my mama!”
“That’s a great story.”
“That’s San Francisco, when I was back in Lufkin, Texas, that’s where I’m from, I told people I wanted to go to San Francisco. All that was there for me in Texas was picking cotton, the KKK and people telling me I wasn’t shit. They told me if I tried to leave I’d end up dead on the street. But you know what I told them?” “What?”
“Dead is dead, but before I die I’m going to see San Francisco!”
To me, Souls of San Francisco illustrates very clearly the truth that every person is interesting, everyone is worthwhile, everyone has a story. Is this intentional on your part, or does it just happen naturally as you talk to people?
Yeah, I think that’s totally true. Everyone has something profound to say. Everyone is a piece of the big story, and every piece is valuable. We assign different values to different pieces, but that’s only relative based on our time in history and our societies.
I really believe that everyone who crosses our paths is there to teach us something. It’s all about whether we’re open and able to receive it. I felt as though I’ve undergone a tremendous evolution in the course of this project because of the intimate connections and relationships I’ve made. I just create the space and see who will meet me in that space. I’m really grateful for the things I’ve been taught and shown.
“I like your tattoos, you mind if I take your picture?”
“Not at all, I”m flattered. This is my favorite one. It’s unfinished because I was addicted to meth at the time and couldnt sit still. I keep it this was to remind me of that time.”
“What was it like being addicted to meth?”
“At first it was great. It increased my sex drive, gave me tons of energy, and helped me lose weight. But after the receptors in your brain are flooded with those chemicals they build receptors to block that over stimulation so it’s never the same as the first time and you’re always chasing the dragon. We’re not built to reach nirvana that way. I’ve been clean for over 7 years though.”
“What made you quit?”
“I lost all my friends, all the people I ended up hanging out with were related to doing meth and they were only around to try and get something from you. I was so naive about what an epidemic it was in the gay community. When I finally decided to get clean, I had to do it all alone. It was really lonely.”
“What gave you the strength to make it thru?”
“…You know what…I don’t know.”
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard