Step inside Pier 24 Photography, a 28,000-square-foot warehouse turned gallery along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, and your first impression may be that you've stumbled into a cool underground club—for art.
The beige, single-story building's exterior looks unassuming, but its interior holds one of the nation's largest museums dedicated to photography. The space is divided into quiet, dimly lit rooms that showcase the Pilara Foundation's collection of works by emerging and veteran photographers. No labels accompany the mounted photos, which can range from Polaroids to mural-size prints, leaving you to focus solely on the images without the filter of photographer or background info.
And, because visiting is free, by appointment, and on weekdays only, you're practically guaranteed a pure art experience—without being jostled by crowds or having to fight the flow of foot traffic.
The rotating exhibitions can include hundreds of photographs. Past shows have centered on aspects of the medium such as portraits and street shots. Others have examined the ways in which artists alter photographs for effect or how captured images can shape our perceptions of the world.
Regardless of any particular exhibit's theme, the museum always delivers an intimate and visceral experience. For an in-depth retrospective, catch Looking Back: Ten Years of Pier 24 Photography before it closes Apr. 30.