Photography and Story by Brenton Gieser
Many of us like to believe that fate works as our benevolent servant mysteriously guiding us to destinations in our lives that are undeniably “meant to be”. However, that notion is more likely some philosophical foolery we’ve made up in order to cope with the wide ranging scope of life that lives far outside our influence. Whatever the case may be, Kelly Burns ended up in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district due to a seemingly benign mistake, that sure seems like fate. What was the mistake? Applying to a school she didn’t intend on going to. So with a surprise acceptance letter from the Academy of Art, Kelly ended up scouring San Francisco’s extortionate rental market for a place a small town early twenty something could afford.
This is how Kelly ended up in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood she would grow a real love for, a neighborhood that in some ways reflects her childhood back to her. Growing up in the town of Union City Pennsylvania, which is populated by just over three thousand working class Americans, Kelly’s childhood in many ways was defined by drug abuse. As a child, she was the primary caretaker of her father, a heroin addict crippled by inescapable psychological trauma. The cycle of addiction ceased to perpetuate in the next generation as Kelly put a stop to that possibility. Bearing direct witness to a level of pain most will never know, Kelly formed an agreement with herself, maybe even a mandate to transcend the pain and genetic predisposition she was subjected to. Like anyone predisposed to drug addiction, Kelly needed a possitive outlet. That outlet showed up in the form of edgy avant garde fashion coupled with an impressive ability to focus and the talent to create cool things.
As Kelly walks through the Tenderloin to her sewing shop with materials for her next project in hand, she will pass by scores of people who live in a world of addiction much like her father. Her ever present grace in the face of trauma that she sees on the streets isn’t an accident, this grace grew out of her childhood. Maybe the Tenderloin is meant to be graced by this young conscious and loving artists, and maybe it was fate that decided on behalf of Kelly that this is home.