Dive-Bar Meet Up With Photographer Angelo Partemi

It went down in the DMs. Well, to start with anyway. Angelo Partemi (website here and @angelopartemi on the ‘gram) direct messaged me: he was passing through Chicago, his hometown, and wanted to meet up. After a moment’s look at his feed—*Borat voice with double thumbs up* veeeeerrrrrrryyy niiiice—of course I was game. Oh, and at a four-star rated dive bar on the North Side? Twist my arm, why don’tcha.

Save More, Drink More

Located off of Lincoln Avenue, the bar is owned by Angelo’s aunt; it’s called “Save More Lounge” and, according to an on-point Yelp review, feels “more like someone’s basement than it did a bar, and that was kind of cool because it just made it feel really relaxed.” I can second that, feeling a similar sensation of being at home when I stepped through the door (if my home had a pool table, wood-paneled walls and, I shit you not, Kleenex boxes marked “GUM ONLY”). Angelo was already at the back, so I introduced myself and bellied up.

Oh, you’ve got a case of the runny-nose sniffles? Too bad! At Save More Lounge facial tissues aren’t for faces or the stupid noses atop them. They’re for GUM ONLY!!!

Hamm’s Handed

First thing I notice is that Angelo has his Ricoh camera, flash mounted on top, perched on the bar in front of him within arm’s reach, looking like it’s been used often. This confirms my first impression from his feed: he’s obviously been dutifully committed to doing the Lord’s work out on the street, not about to miss an opportunity even if it presents itself inside the bar with a Hamm’s in hand.

He’s showed me his, so I show him mine—an Olympus Stylus Epic, which, because of it’s compact size, is my universal carry-along camera. In fact, I brag to him, it’s just been used; I pulled over my bike on the way north to grab a photo of a dad with his daughter, both fighting to keep an umbrella open in the rain and wind. This is like the photographer’s hand shake in my experience.

Why bike in the city? So easy to pull over for a shot.

Angelo is warm and welcoming, obviously smart and passionate about photography, and we begin almost three hours of conversation over the course of several cans cracked and handed over by his wonderful Aunt—friendly and no-frills, the type of Chicago character that I lament is becoming more and more rare to encounter.

After a few minutes, Angelo remembers he has something for me: he hands over an envelope containing 4×6 prints (note to self: having immediately felt a bit sheepish for being empty-handed, remember to return the favor to someone else). What a nice surprise and gesture!

As I’ve already hinted at, I definitely recommend giving Angelo a follow on Instagram (and I’ve added this post to my ongoing list of street photographers to follow). After our meet up, I scanned his prints, the very ones I’ll share here as an introduction to his work.

San Fran Shootin’

Angelo, 35 years old, is a world traveler. He got his start in street photography while teaching English in South Korea. Afterward ending up back stateside, lately in San Francisco, he has continued to shoot on the streets (his most recent work posted to Instagram is from San Fran, so too for the shared prints). It was there that he began meeting and hanging out with other street photographers, an at-first informal coalition that would eventually become what today is the San Francisco Photography Club (@sfcpc).

One of the things we cover in our conversation is how important it is to have other capable, like-minded and similarly impassioned photographers to talk and hang out with, and also receive feedback from. Futhermore, a group such as this has a “rising tide lifts all boats” sort of effect, in that the collective improves the ability of the individual members and also expands their notoriety. It’s this very thing I’ve noticed with NYCSPC, the New York City Street Photography Collective founded and led by Jorge Garcia.

Partemi’s Prints

My first reaction when flipping through the prints was that they reminded me of the work of Troy Holden (very much meant as a general compliment, and not an accusation of copying). Which, having learned that Angelo was a part of the San Fran crew along with Troy, made sense. It’s a rough-and-ready approach, purposefully unrefined in style, that hones in on finding remarkable “WTF!?” moments as perpetrated by the city’s distinct cast of characters. My growing sense is that it’s a sort of San Francisco “school” of street photography, driven by the specific culture of the city and its vibe, one that, like a frequency, attracts new tribesmen to appreciate it whether their homegrown or from other metropolises like Chicago.

The Parade Never Ends

In an apropos caption underneath one of his photos showing a man literally bearing a large cross of some sort while riding a hoverboard, Angelo wrote, “The parade never ends.” This sensibility shapes his work: high-floating balloons above Macy’s on Thanksgiving isn’t where it’s at; it’s the street-level hoverboard cross bearers, the MJ imitators, the grocery bag head balancers, and sidewalk corner back stretchers who are worthy of our attention and appreciation. As Troy Holden commented, repurposing the meme-ified Batman quote, on the aforementioned photo of the cross bearer: “He’s not the hero that we asked for … but he’s no doubt the hero that we need.”

Don’t let the raw, filmic aesthetic and seemingly fly-on-the-wall happenstance of the photos fool you: there’s a sophistication to Angelo’s work, who’s obviously skilled, in regard to his decisiveness and composition. Notice how he waits to place the cross bearer in the crosswalk, nearly matching the diagonal of the carried cross with the white painted lines. Maybe appearing random to the uninitiated, it’s smacks of an experienced shooter who isn’t so trigger happy and easily pleased to simply get a snap of a WTF character—he finds that suitable subject, then, like a pro, places him in a context that heightens the overall photographic value.

So to see this shot, also on San Francisco’s famed Market Street and in one of its crosswalks: a person doing a handstand, too close for comfort it would seem to passing traffic, would be the focus for many shooters; however, Angelo pulls back to place a small dog as the head stander’s observer, a comical stand-in for the audience. It elevates the photo from kooky-person porn to a (tragically) comic commentary on our delighted observation and simultaneous indifference to the marginalized among us.

The Best Things In Life

There’s a connection between the appreciation for family-owned dive bars, deliciously bad-tasting beer, and the unfiltered sidewalk histrionics of our most colorful urban characters. It’s one, as revealed by Angelo’s camera, that prefers texture over shine, the actual over the faux-authentic, the shitty over the sanitized, the colorful over the well-composed, the maniacal over the mannered—and an awareness that not only are the first halves of those dichotomies more enjoyable, they’re much, much cheaper. The best things (to look at) in life are free.

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