Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
Doug Salin has trouble doing anything longer than one hour.
In this podcast, the career photographer shares his life story with us. We recorded in Doug's house in the Sunnyside, the same place we met and talked with ex-San Francisco poet laureate, Kim Shuck (Part 1 / Part 2). Kim is Doug's life partner, in fact.
These days, Doug works as a robotics mentor for high school students in The City. He's been doing photography since he was four. He began college studying physics, but that didn't excite him. Somewhat by accident, he fell into mechanical engineering instead. He soon became the photo editor of the college newspaper and yearbook.
Doug figured he was destined to work in journalism. But someone he knew mentioned heading up to San Francisco to see if there were any photo jobs for him. He wasn't planning to stay in San Jose, so he came up and met Paul Hoffman.
Hoffman connected Doug with Macy's in Union Square, where there was an opening in the store's in-house photo department. He had no experience in commercial photographer, but figured what the hell?
He ended up getting the job and worked in the company's dark room, which was located inside the store. Then someone asked him to help with "paste-ups," which was more like the work he did for his college yearbook.
About a year later, the photo department was looking to remodel their area of Macy's. Doug took a look at the plans and suggested something different, more efficient. They ended up going with Doug's revisions. Shortly after the renovations were made, Macy's named Doug an assistant studio manager.
He still wasn't taking photos in that situation, though. But in his experience of managing photographers, he picked up what he needed along the way.
Doug shares stories of his Jewish family's escape from Nazi Germany and their journey to the U.S. His dad went to Basel, Switzerland, first. So many of his friends died in WWII that, after the war ended, he came to New York City.
Being highly educated and speaking five or six languages, he got a job as an editor at the Academy of Sciences. An uncle had immigrated to the U.S. in the '20s, landing in Minnesota first. An ambidextrous artist, he could draw with either hand. He was also a storyteller and puppeteer. Eventually, he made his way to North Beach.
Despite having eight or nine different names and honoraries, people knew him by the name Wolo. He did some work in the Central Valley for the WPA, caricatures here in The City, and was a fixture in his neighborhood in the '20s and '30s.
Wolo had a regular spot in the Chronicle pre-Herb Caen. "I Saw You There" was a caricature of the day from somewhere around town. Readers who spotted themselves in the art could go to the Chronicle and collect a prize. He is perhaps most famous for his designs at the now-shuttered Van Ness restaurant Hippo Burger. His nephew (Doug's dad) came to join him here, and that's how the Salins arrived in San Francisco.
Doug says his mom, who was born and raised in SF, was a Bohemian. She was a poet and an artist herself. His dad was quite the dresser. Doug isn't sure of the exact story of how they met, but those factors make sense for the two of them to have connected in North Beach.
However they met, they got married and moved up to San Rafael, where Doug and his brother were born and raised. His dad was a printer and his mom came into San Francisco to the binderies that were here back in the day. Doug has fond memories of coming to The City and going to Playland at the Beach. He especially loved the enchiladas at the Hot House.
As a kid, Doug loved walking around with the postal-delivery guy and later got his own paper route. He hung out with a lot of adults whose jobs he was curious about. He went to college at Santa Clara University, as mentioned in Part 1. He shares a wild story of driving to The City from the South Bay in 1974 and almost running out of gas during the fuel crisis that year.
After his time at Macy's, Doug went out on his own as a photographer, specializing in architectural lighting.
We end this podcast with Doug's thoughts on San Francisco losing its color and his hopefulness that it can get it back.
We recorded this episode at Doug's house in the Sunnyside in April 2022.