Graham Loft and his family in a photo booth picture. Courtesy of Rob Valletta.

There’s a chance that, the next time you use a San Francisco bar’s photo booth, it’s one Graham Loft made. 

Loft was killed on August 11, when a car struck and killed him as he rode his red motorcycle near Market and Danvers streets, in the Castro neighborhood. He was the co-founder of Glass Coat Photo Booth, a company that rented out and built custom booths, and specialized the booths’ picture technology. 

Founded in 2010, the company established a photo booth mini-empire, dotting watering holes on both sides of the Bay Bridge with its creations, and attracting orders by the likes of LinkedIn and the Grammys. Clients who wished to intimately document personal milestones, like weddings and birthdays, rented them, too. So, it was only right that one was brought to Loft’s memorial. 

Loft died just four days shy of his 42nd birthday. That Thursday morning, he ensured a crockpot full of his family’s dinner was cooking before he left the house. Days later his wife, Pia, marked the traffic light at the intersection with a card. She signed a message on behalf of their two children, Niko, 4 and a half, and Remy, 2 and a half. “We love you and miss you.” 

Early life

Loft was born as Graham Michael French on Aug. 15, 1980, in Memphis, Tenn. By middle school, his mother, Mary Hall, and Loft landed in Lawrenceville, Ga., where, each day, Loft, then a bleached-blonde teen, skateboarded to Collins Hill High School. He attended from 1995 to 1999.

It was the ’90s, and Loft proved himself a disciple of skate culture by erecting a self-made altar in his childhood room: From floor to ceiling were pictures of skateboard icons that Loft cut out of magazines. Only hawk-eyed guests discovered that Loft cheekily replaced some of the skateboarders’ faces with his own.  

“We were lost boys who found each other,” childhood friend Wes Duvall said. 

As ringleader of their daredevil group, Loft convinced his friends to sneak out to Atlanta past curfew, and to plot pranks against his younger brother, Robert. “Do you remember that?” Robert jokingly accused a few of Loft’s friends at last week’s memorial at the Brazilian Room in Tilden Park. That game where Loft pinned Robert to the ground and would knuckle his sternum until the younger sibling successfully listed 10 fruits? 

Despite his mischievous escapades, Georgia could not contain Loft’s spirit. At age 10, Loft told his mother: “When I grow up, I want to travel the world,” Mary recalled at the memorial. “And he did.”

After high school, Loft ventured to Canada, England, Spain, Egypt, and Asia. He took a cycling and photography trip in Tibet and China, where he dodged police and learned firsthand that yak meat wasn’t one of his favorite foods. Friends recall Loft gifting Polaroid photos to the Tibetan families he met.

San Francisco days

In 2001, Loft moved to San Francisco “to pursue his love of skateboarding.” That love would lead him, uncharacteristically, to church, where a skateboard-riding congregant might stand out. He caught the attention of Dan Whiteley, who credits that day as the beginning of a long-lasting friendship.  

The pair quickly bonded over alternative music and shredding. Whiteley, at the time the art director for the skateboard magazine Thrasher, roped Loft into taking freelance music photos of long-admired stars and musicians. The pair saw Billy Idol at the Warfield, and Loft photographed Moby’s Los Angeles house for an architecture magazine. Whiteley and Loft launched a band, Franc-Blanc, a riff off their last names.  

To supplement his freelance work, Loft valeted. He also enrolled in photography classes at San Francisco City College, spending his days in a darkroom. 

Meanwhile, an opportunity to buy a barn-full of cheap mopeds arose and Loft, as he generally approached life, seized it. Loft took a Puch Magnum, and decided his friends and others should start a moped-riding group. “If you ride mopeds, we want you,” his Craiglist ads would say. By 2004, the San Francisco moped army Creatures of the Loin was born. 

If a Creature needed to fix a broken bike, Loft would do it for a trade. Loft constructed a personalized moped for his friend Chuck Donoghue, who repaid him in tattoos. He and Zach Levenberg beat an informal moped record for their trip to South America. 

By 2008, friends said, Loft became a photo assistant. Then the recession hit, along with the realization that an economic downturn didn’t pair well with a freelancing career. With a friend, Loft launched Glass Coat Photo Booth, a rental and custom photo booth company. 

“We just saw there aren’t any photo booth rental companies, and we decided to build one and bide our time while things smoothed over,” Loft told me in an interview about his workplace earlier this month. “And then the company kind of took off,” he said. He liked how photo booths appealed to a time when there was still “charm in a stolen kiss.” 

Fittingly, Loft spent two decades doing this work inside an artist collective at the Heinzer Warehouse. Despite the chaotic and odd characters who filled the crumbling space, Loft’s work table was always tidy, said Ethel Brennan, an artist who shared a space with him for a year. During the pandemic, the pair discussed parenting, artistry, and unconventional health tips. 

Loft, a believer in toe-socks and toe-shoes, eating meat straight from the bone, and drinking bulletproof coffee, tried to convert his friends to these practices. “I said, ‘I’m never wearing toe-shoes,’” Brennan told him when Loft showed up wearing a pair. 

Open to his health advice, however, was Pia, his future wife. Loft laid eyes on Pia at a Yoga for the People Class, where she elusively decamped before he could approach her. Loft resorted to Craiglists’s Missed Connections section to land a date. “She basically came over for dinner one night and never left,” Levenberg recalled.

The pair wed at City Hall in 2015, and celebrated at a Hawaiian-themed party at the Alexander Valley Lodge in Northern California. A photo they took there — Loft in an open-mouthed, goofy expression, and Pia kissing his cheek — would be the first image customers saw on the Glass Coat Photo Booth Yelp page. “Only the highest quality images ALL THE TIME!” the caption reads. The couple welcomed two children: Niko in 2017, and Remy in 2020, whose images occupy a lot of space on Loft’s Instagram.  

When the pandemic hit, business for photo booths plummeted. Undeterred, Loft transformed into “Handy Graham,” and completed odd jobs. “He told me once that he screwed in a lightbulb for someone for $100,” Whiteley said. 

Graham Loft of Glass Coat Photo Booth in his section of the studio at the Heinzer Warehouse. Ahead is a photo booth he is designing for the brewery, Almanac Beer Co. in Alameda. Photo taken by Annika Hom, August 10, 2022.
Graham Loft of Glass Coat Photo Booth company. Loft was a tenant at the Ernie Heinzer Warehouse. Photo taken by Annika Hom, August 8, 2022.

By 2022, the orders had picked up again. He took time off to complete  a motorcycle trip to Utah, “a major bucket-list trip,” Donoghue said, before resuming work. In a recent text to another friend said, “4-5 more booths and I’ll be able to get this fam to Hawaii :).”

This summer, Loft learned the Heinzer Warehouse, where he’d worked for a dozen years, would be sold. He fretted over his unfinished projects, including a photo booth he designed for Almanac Beer Co. in Alameda. He secured another work spot in El Cerrito, where his family moved, but still would grieve losing his “foothold” in the city. He cherished the warehouse for the friendships. 

“There’ve been so many people in and out of the building, people I would normally not meet. So many artists,” Loft said. About one artist, Erik Otto, he said: “I’ll know him for the rest of my life, you know?”

He did.

Find more about Loft here.

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Thanks so much for writing this. The 10 fruits is a brutal game as I the younger brother can attest. Love and miss you my brother.

  2. Thank you for this lovely memorial to a wonderful man. His death leaves a huge hole in many lives. Those of us who were lucky enough to be part of his family miss him profoundly, every single moment of every single day.

  3. I don’t want to sound morbid, but as motorcycle rider I would like to have more details about the accident. I’m on that part of Market St. several times a week.

    1. Graham was riding up Market – not speeding. A car coming down Market turning onto Danvers turned in front of him.

  4. Hi! Just want to clarify I only shared an actual studio with Graham for just over a year, but was a tenant at the Heinzer building for 7 years. He was a good friend and I miss him. Thank you Annika.

  5. This is a beautiful story. Thank you for covering a lovely member of our community. Please include if there is a fund for his children’s education we can donate to.

  6. I am saddened that yet another human life has been cut short as a result of a traffic accident, regardless of whose fault it was. My condolences to his family and friends. He sounds like he was the kind of San Franciscan full of life and love for his community.
    long live his memory, I would’ve liked very much to have met him.