From drifter to capturer: City alum keeps it street-smart
By Cassie Ordonio
When he was 18, Travis Jensen moved to the city he considered a skateboard mecca. He was following advice of a homeless man who called San Francisco the “lost city of Atlantis.”
He went from couch surfing to pursuing his dream of becoming a photographer.
The self-taught photographer, now 37, has had his photos published by 17 companies, including Apple, Acura, Budweiser and KQED.
“To be a photographer, you have to be a character yourself,” Jensen said.
Jensen used graffiti to tell stories in the early 2000s, but found himself desiring to appeal to a larger audience.
“I couldn’t put my finger on it,” he said. “It wasn’t until I got into photography. That was the missing component.”
It became the universal medium he used to extend his reach to others.
While attending City College, he gained an interest in journalism through his desire to write and communicate with others. But after graduating, he still felt something was missing.
Jensen went on to write for local businesses, including the San Francisco Chronicle and The Hundreds.
“I find his writing refreshingly conversational—he doesn’t hold back and tells it like it is,” said Alina Nguyen, editor-in-chief of The Hundreds. “His photography is deeply personal and comes from the gut. He cares more than most people and that’s what I think is immediately evident.”
Roaming the streets of San Francisco, he became fascinated and familiar with his environment, and began taking pictures of his surroundings.
At the time, he wasn’t aware this was called street photography.
His photographic style fit skate culture and caught the attention of Van Styles, the owner of t-shirt company Visual Apparel.
The two worked together in 2013, when Styles offered Jensen the opportunity to photograph and have his work published for the company, which is sold in PacSun and local skate shops. Ten of his photos were printed on shirts sold across the U.S., Canada, Japan and several European countries.
“I felt his work was honest, compelling and creative,” Styles said.
Jensen’s creativity didn’t stop there. He directed a music video and photography project called “Mr. Skweenz,” with the help of street photographer Rasta Dave and videographer Jane Wayne Swayze.
On Aug. 5, a gallery and music video were presented at Book and Job on Geary Street in the Tenderloin.
“We don’t want to be portrayed as a gang, but really we’re a bunch of dudes that grew up in the neighborhood,” Dave said. “Hopefully it will make people think differently about our hood.”
The project made Jensen miss San Francisco. He and his family moved to Los Angeles a year ago because of the rising cost of living in the Bay.
“If I didn’t have kids I could make it work, but raising a family today in San Francisco is next to impossible,” he said. “Los Angeles seemed like the best option.”
He is currently working toward publishing his next book “San Francisco: Seven Year Cycle.”
The book details his experience living in the city and how it made him into who he is now.
“I wake up every morning and thank the universe for allowing me this incredible opportunity,” he said. “Though difficult at times, being hands-on in all areas has helped me learn the photo business inside and out.”