Diving into the catalogue of San Francisco native photography duo WHYPHY415 offers a glimpse into the beauty of San Francisco culture that’s disintegrating by the day. Mysterious fires in the Mission (and the City throughout), mayoral granted tax breaks towards Twitter and other major companies, urban displacement and a lack of affordable low income housing in SF (and the greater Bay Area as a whole) have been pushing out longtime residents for years. To top it all off, SF natives have faced high rates of police brutality amidst a scandal of racism within the SFPD – just to name a few issues. SF Mission natives, Fabiola and Lupé of Whyphy415 empower themselves and others like them through their art, claiming their mark on spaces that are becoming increasingly more unwelcoming towards people of color, and in particular the youth. The two trade off their intertwining vision of the City’s cultural melting pot, capturing Mission staples, days at Dolores with friends, and SF’s working class – all the while contributing to the emerging generation of young artists from the Bay Area throwing shows throughout Oakland, SF and beyond.
I’m not one for corny quotes but the one about photographing the thing a person cares about the most resonates while looking at your work, particularly capturing the essence of native San Franciscans. Tell me about how you both picked up a camera.
Fabiola: I took some amateur photography classes in middle school but never saw it is an interest until high school. We both coincidentally re-approached photography in our junior year but it was all for fun and nostalgia. It wasn’t until I was a few rolls deep that I realized I could actually do something with this and even manipulate what I wanted to capture. I feel like because we both started off so young, we were both able to develop different shooting styles but ultimately they all cover aspects of a young native’s life and that’s what we aim for.
Lupé: Damn, the first time I picked up film is a clear memory. I was 13, part of a scrapbook club where they gave me my first disposable and we were to use them to document our lives. I was heavily inspired by the tagging done on muni, I was a youngsta witnessing different flows of expression. From there on, I carried a disposable with me. My interest and love for photography grew more as it became my outlet to exhibit my emotions and surroundings. As Fabiola stated we approached it more deeply our junior year in high school.
I took my dad’s manual konica film and began to self-teach myself more techniques with it. In the process of this, I began to distort my comfort style and expanded my skills… (and imagination) . My teenage years were a fucking rollercoaster, pictures allow me to reminisce even deeper into these memories. Being able to share a common emotion from different experiences with other people is dope as fuck to me.
I feel like at the age you’re at, you’re on the cusp of the last generation to grow up in a pre-gentrified san francisco, what are your earliest memories of the city and what keeps you motivated to continue capturing moments?
Lupé: A lot of memories are filled with vibrancy; I grew up in the heart of San Francisco, the Mission District. A lot of moments are so clear that when I pass through certain areas of the city I get fucking flashbacks. Mainey.. but my first household in the city was on 20th Capp, I lived on a third floor apartment and I stayed peaking out the balcony to see and listen what was going on around the block or in the park in front, I was always an observant kid. Dolores Park is central to my memories, walking all of 20th street to play on the wood boat and attempting the monkey bars on the huge-silver rings. Fuck at Dolores Park I got bitten by a dog too. I walked, ran, smiled and cried through all of Mission. I’ve always been surrounded by liveful people, many that have taught me valuable lessons. friends & youth who share in common having pride being from the city and acknowledge ongoing social issues. I started hearing about gentrification when I was in middle school. Long 49 bus rides with my brother consisted of tagging beef as well conversations about displacement and people moving out to the east bay. This opened my eyes to appreciate my neighborhood and be more involved in my community. Seeing the positive impact we can do in our own community has always motivated me to keep on capturing moments. Photography made me realize you can’t live a moment twice so you have to enjoy every fucking second of it and do what you love. I take pride in my culture and what my neighborhood once was because it shaped a big part of me. Bruh I grew up in the streets where rich people thought they were too good for and now they want to look at us like we’re weird. Fuck that, this is my homebase. Like Nickatina says “you know that Bay Bridge heart kid running through my veins”. I recognized we are part of an on-going revolution, me and Fabiola acknowledge and continuously want to learn more about social issues. I really hope to find our way around the world with our cameras and make others aware of marginalization.
Fabiola: I think I could file my whole lifetime under early moments in the city, particularly the Mission. I’ve lived in the same apartment on 24th street my whole life so I do believe I’ve witnessed a lot of change. It’s emotional though, seeing changes in my neighborhood while adjusting to changes in my own personal life. The gentrification in the city and rising costs in basically everything we do definitely adds on to already being stuck in the broke college student phase. The changes themselves are my biggest sadness but most motivating force to keep going. I have friends from other cities who have never been to the Mission and are captivated by it now but were never around to see what it really was. I believe capturing moments goes beyond Instagram and filters; although I do appreciate social media for giving us outlets to pass on this awareness. I am motivated by the fact that history is real and culture can make or break a neighborhood. It’s so mainey to me how people have different memories of the same places but at the end of the day, we all share the area as a home. I take pictures to show people what those memories used to be, how prominent our culture was whether it be our Latino culture in the Mission or city kid culture, rolling up on the bus, kids skating and hitting up down the street.
It’s rare to see photography collectives or especially duos, what was the motivation to come together as whyphy? How did ya’ll two meet?
BOTH: We met in high school through our mutual friend, Keith and hung out for the first time on 420 our sophomore year which I guess explains a lot. A crazy ass day (we even saw Jesus, who went into a bar). We officially met in person on a random Sunday in the Mission when we ran into each other at the 14 stop on 24th. This is beyond ironic to us because the same place our friendship started is where it developed, too. I can’t even count the amount of times we’ve ran into other friends in the Mission and formed a huge link up right then and there. We’ve had our most naive highest highs on these streets, we’ve met personalities while forming our own, went through flings and heartbreaks together, all literally on 24th and Mission. Another spot where our friendship grew: The Blue Wall. It’s in a alley way by 25th and Folsom (don’t steal our spot hahaha) We had conversations about feeling and being a misfit in a miss-fit , we carried ourselves in a unique style, acknowledged it and understood each other (split personalities) When we had summer school at Balboa we began to think and talk about WHYPHY. Background on the name; It’s Wifey and HYPHY united, a sisterhood. What started between the both of us, has expanded to empower our hood sisters. Taking up photography at the same time had a lot to do with us coming together, but so did being from the same place. The Mission has a culture behind it that grows every day and we are products of this change and split culture.
How would you describe your dynamic? Especially as far as sharing your work.
Fabiola: It wasn’t until recently that I’ve felt a change in my priorities and noticed awareness in the generation around me. I believe who you surround yourself with is truly a reflection of your multiple sides as well. The people in our friend groups are very versatile; able to articulate themselves artistically but are also aware about what’s going on in the world and the streets we roam on. I think this rubs off on us a lot, we contribute our own personalities to this friend group, too. Our dynamic is very built on who we are. We recognize ourselves as not any ordinary duo because we see ourselves as a reflection of San Francisco, something not many people can claim. Our dynamic is all culture, the hidden parts of the City that aren’t condos and overpriced uncultured shit. We represent the kids who get yelled at for smoking on some steps but also the tias y tios who post up on the corner every day selling flowers to afford living in a neighborhood that was theirs to begin with.
A mixture of laid back and hyphy as fuck, our dynamic consist of our own constant self-growth. Giving each other constructive feedback has helped us develop more confidence. Our communication is very articulate and that’s tight as hell cause we understand our different priorities. This doesn’t just stay within us, our group of friends are very supportive. We are very blessed to have unique individuals in our lives; I love capturing my friends in their natural essence. We walk our streets with glamour cause ain’t no one taking the ownership from us in saying “We’re from the city”. All similarly, every SF native has a common pain, seeing what was once home change. We’re compassionate and won’t ever stop standing up for our people. We go through different obstacles but we share in common our ancestry, we come from generations of warriors, lovers, curanderas and hustlas.