I've made a few pictures I like during visits to San Francisco over the years. While I lived there in the early 1970s I made none of any value. I also failed to make any meaningful contact with any of the many great photographers of the period who had gravitated to the Bay Area. Luckily, photography being what it is, I can revisit those times now.
I've just finished a book by Peter Bunnell from that era when he was the MOMA photography curator. His writing style is generally over-wrought, but his profiles of photographic artists are contemporary and worth reading. I was particularly taken by some quotes he took from interviews of Ruth Bernhard including these:
"My own creative work comes to me like a gift, pushing itself into my consciousness. A powerful feeling comes over me. It's hard to explain, but in a way the image creates itself -- with a little help from me. It is a timeless experience, almost like being in a trance. Often I have struggled for days to get the image of the photograph to overlap the spirit I see. It is an awesome responsibility, and a lonely one."
"I make only one negative when photographing a nude or a still life. The moment of exposure is the culmination of rejecting all other possibilities. It often takes me many hours to make a photograph. I consider creating an image a tremendous privilege."
Part of the reason I find Bernhard's words so compelling is the resemblance to the ideas of David Lewis-Williams about the origins of art in shamanistic visions. I doubt that Bernhard had to resort to mind-altering drugs to gain access to higher states of consciousness. The process she describes seems more to resemble the experience of the vision quest, involving isolation, extreme focus, sensory deprivation and overload. I think it may also be significant that she worked with very large format photographic equipment which requires the exercise of great patience, and concentration.