Kings of California

Project devoted to the street chess players in San Francisco and Santa Monica


Photographing Chess in California

Chess and photography go hand in hand for Tyler Fraser. Since 2007 he has been photographing Kings of California, a project devoted to the street chess players in San Francisco and Santa Monica.

So often the chess tables can become a magical place, where people challenge each other to battle. Both San Francisco and Santa Monica can have over a hundred people playing or watching chess games on any given Saturday. All gathering around some of the best players in town to catch a glimpse of some remarkable chess. These two cities make for a wonderful venue to photograph chess players.

Kings of California is as much about the setting as it is the players and the game. Part of the greatness of playing street chess in San Francisco or Santa Monica is the setting. Palm trees line the beautiful Chess Park in Los Angeles and sky-scrapers line the tables in San Francisco. There are buses a couple feet from your chair in the city and there are children playing in the sand at the beach. You can hear the seagulls at the beach and pigeons in the city. Many club players will come out to the sunny avenues to crush some street players.

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Although the quiet games at the chess clubs are fun, Tyler found something special in these outside tables and took to the streets with his camera to photograph the players. Mostly sitting across from the players, Kings of California shows the emotion of the men and also their surroundings. All shot in black and white, there are few distractions from the player, the board and the background activities. Typically the photos were shot while the game was being played, which makes for an up close and personal perspective.

These battles usually are played for your cash, so if you’re low on fund and your chess game is in question, watching may be a good choice. As can be seen in the above photo, some players can do quite well, bringing home some serious money. Many of these players are in need of money. In San Francisco setting up the chess tables is a job for the men that do it and they expect to be compensated for their time and equipment. Many characters and jokesters can be found at the tables.

Completing the project in 2010 Tyler is preparing to show the work in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Contact Tyler Fraser for more information about Kings of California.

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