Baldwin Lee, who is among 17 artists represented in “Turning the Page,” Pier 24 Photography’s final exhibition, takes evocative photographs of people and places of the American South. (©Baldwin Lee, courtesy the artist and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York) 

Images by world-class artists greet the viewer at Pier 24 Photography, the gallery on San Francisco’s Embarcadero in the shadow of the Bay Bridge.

Scenes from gritty city streets to enchanted Indians are among offerings in “Turning the Page,” an exhibition of photobooks by 17 acclaimed photographers on view by appointment only through Jan. 31 in the gallery’s final show. (Last year, sponsors announced the upcoming closure in response to an anticipated rent increase.)  

Photobooks, or collections of images displaying work by a single photographer, have become increasingly essential in the past 20 years, according to Pier 24 Photography Director Allie Haeusslein.

Work by Richard Avedon, Libby Black, Rose Marie Cromwell, Rineke Dijkstra, Robert Frank, Masahisa Fukase, Jim Goldberg, Curran Hatleberg, Rinko Kawauchi, Baldwin Lee, Helen Levitt, Zanele Muholi, Cindy Sherman, Donavon Smallwood, Alec Soth, Larry Sultan, Ed Templeton and Vasantha Yogananthan is on view in the exhibition, which is Pier 24’s first show that does not feature images from its own collection.

Pier 24 Photography is the project of the Pilara Foundation, which was established by Andrew Pilara, a former investment banker whose interest in the art form was sparked by a Diane Arbus retrospective in San Francisco in 2003. Transfixed by a portrait in Arbus’ “Untitled” series, Pilara purchased it as the first piece in the foundation’s collection, which grew to 4,000 pieces.

For “Turning the Page,” Pier 24 is divided into 17 sections, each displaying the photobook of one photographer.

Cromwell offers a slice of life in Cuba in “El Libro Supremo de la Suerte” (“The Supreme Book of Luck),” a non-linear series “alluding to the mystical ways of luck” and reflecting la charada, a lottery in which everyday items are assigned a number and players interpret their dreams as they make their bets.

Rose Marie Cromwell’s “The Mirror” is part of the series “El Libro Supremo de la Suerte,” which focuses on a tradition in Cuba involving dreams and a lottery in which numbers are associated with everyday objects. (©Rose Marie Cromwell, courtesy the artist)

“I saw my friend Milagros mining her life for meaning to pick a number to lay in the underground lottery. I found a similarity in how I was mining my everyday experiences to create images that illustrated my experiences in Cuba,” writes Cromwell, whose photo “The Mirror” is in the exhibition.

Jim Goldberg, known for photographing people outside of the mainstream, pictures gritty city life in “Hollywood Freeway #1.” (©Jim Goldberg/Courtesy the artist)

Goldberg’s series “Raised by Wolves,” including home stills, drawings, snapshots and text, portrays gritty city life.

His 1989 picture “Hollywood Freeway #1” of a man hanging over a freeway guardrail exemplifies his attempt to “bridge the gap between society and the kids whose problems you portray,” he writes.

Baldwin Lee, who is Chinese American and a professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee, aimed his lens on African Americans in the rural South. His untitled photo of two youths lying on the hood of a car hints of poverty.

But Lee invites his subjects in: “I would approach my potential subjects, explain in as detailed a manner as possible what I had seen, and ask for permission to take photograph...Looking is a two-way street,” he writes.

From the other side of the globe comes work by Vasantha Yogananthan, whose travels in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka inform “A Myth of Two Souls,” a series of images stemming from the ancient Hindu myth the Ramayana and the lives of deities Rama and Sita.

Describing 2015’s “Rama Combing His Hair” and 2019’s “Demigod,” a young man with a blue torso (as Krishna is blue), Yogananthan writes, “The idea of reenacting passages from the Ramayana with local people was born from my experience in the field. The Indians’ unconditional love of photography is so strong that it can move mountains.” 

Since opening in 2010, Pier 24 has produced 11 exhibitions, with themes including portraiture, work by Bay Area photographers, San Francisco history and early American color photography.

Early last year, when Andrew Pilara announced that Pier 24 would close due to the San Francisco Port Commission’s plan to triple the rent, he said, “Rather than operating with a significantly higher annual budget, we believe that money could be better utilized by local organizations.”

As the Pilara Foundation becomes a granting organization devoting resources to health care research, education and the arts, pieces in the photography collection are being sold to Sotheby’s and other private parties, and many are being donated to museums.

“Turning the Page” continues through Jan. 31, 2025 at Pier 24 Photography, which is open 9 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Mondays-Fridays by appointment only, and located on Pier 24, The Embarcadero, San Francisco. Admission is free. Call (415) 512-7424, email [email protected] or visit https://pier24.org/.