The Window at Work

Response to the Post Daily  Word Prompt:  Window

The year was 1981 or 2, hard now to keep all the years separate.  I was working as a secretary for a successful architectural firm, on Clay Street, in the Chinatown area of San Francisco.  This was just the beginning of the computer era.  I typed on a Wang word processor which was what all the big offices were using in the early eighties, but in a few years would be replaced by the first computers, which didn’t even have windows yet.

I didn’t want to be a secretary, I wanted to be a photographer.

My desk was near the front of this big window, as pictured in the above photo, which looked out over Clay Street.  In the photo these two architects are standing between me and the window.  Many of my photos were taken out of and in front of this window.  The light from it was tremendous.  In those days almost all my photos were in black and white, from which I developed the film and printed myself at a public photo lab that anyone could go to for a small monthly fee.  I spent almost all my spare money on camera and photo supplies, experimenting with all kinds of photo papers.  I loved making big photos on 11″ x 14″ very heavy textured paper, which then I would hand tint.  (I reproduce some of them below in addition to the above.)

Even though I was only a secretary, I took photos of all the company’s employees, and the office interior, when I had any spare time.  Everyone seemed to love my photos except for the woman who was my immediate superior.  She looked down on them and me.  This woman, the office manager and a Partner in the firm, was the office manager, an administrator, who had no artistic leanings whatsoever, but was good at her job of running the business side of the office.  She didn’t care for my artistic interests and tried to discourage them, but I persisted in spite of her.  Since others, including the President and the other Partners of the firm liked my photos and often posed for me, she couldn’t stop me completely from taking them.  I only took people photos, which was part of my job I did on my own.  They had a professional photographer who did the architectural photography.

This office also had a beautiful roof, which I could go out onto and take photos.  The other employees were very happy to go up on the roof and pose for me.  I would give them the photos I took of them, which I had printed myself on good photo paper and often 8″ x 10″.

The firm was getting ready to put out an advertising brochure.  I was asked to take photos of the architects for the brochure, which I did.  The woman I worked for didn’t like them, and hired a professional photographer to come in and redo the job I had already done.  My desk was in front of the office manager’s office, so the professional photographer saw all my photos that had displayed around my desk as he came in.  He couldn’t see anything wrong with them, liked them, and wondered why they hired him.  Of course, he was asked to take his photos right in front of my desk, which he did, with all his lights and cameras.   For some unexplainable reason, the Office Manager didn’t like this professional photographer’s photos either.  She couldn’t very well use mine without losing face, so the company’s brochure had no photos of the people who worked in the firm including the Partner and President’s, Frank Tomsick or the founder Gerald McCue.  The Office Manager was an important person in this firm, because she ran the business side of the firm, which the architects didn’t want to be bothered with, including the President.

I did get paid extra for my photography.  I would charge them a few dollars for every photo that they used for some purpose, but what I charged was only enough to cover my printing expenses.  I was happy with this because what I made on the side paid for my photography habit.  Also, on my own, I made up a brochure, just for the employees, showing photos of the employees who worked there, which I did on my own and was not compensated for. I gave a copy of the booklet to every employee, which I believe were around 80.

New positions in the firm came up, that including doing photography, that I qualified for and easily could have done.  However, these jobs were given to people from outside the office, who were less qualified than myself and not as good of a photographer and everyone knew that.    I was also a college graduate, so my lack of education was not a factor.  It seems that in the name of justice, these outside people that the Office Manager gave these jobs to, never worked out.  I often ended up doing most of their job myself.  They often did more harm than good to the firm, before being fired.

After two years, finally realizing that they were never going to let me be anything other than a secretary–and I was a very good one–I quit my job.  I never again worked for an architectural firm, but I have always retained a great love for, and interest in architecture. It was an interesting experience, which I’m grateful for.


Gerald McCue
Gerald McCue, Founding Partner of the firm, and a Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Harvard University. A couple of years ago, Harvard University phoned me and said this was a great photo of him and wanted permission to use it in an exhibition they were having. This firm designed some important buildings in the Silicon Valley at this time.


Frank Tomsisk, FAIA, San Francisco architect and President of MBT Associates Architects, San Francisco.  Posed outside on the fire escape with view of Nob Hill in the back ground.  Frank died last May.  I still hear from some people who worked there–occasionally.


San Francisco
This is a selfie I took looking out my favorite window, the same one as above.  One of the few color photos I took at that time.   I loved these offices so much, I would come in on the weekends when no one was there and take photos.  Everyone who worked there had a key to the building so they could come into work whenever they wanted, but few did outside of office hours.  I think the sun was making me frown.