One of those “the best camera is the one you’ve got on you at the time…” shots. In this case, of course, that camera is my iPhone, and I’d ridden my bicycle past this sight (in the Fruitvale district of Oakland) on the way to work that morning, thinking it looked cool, but the light was in the wrong place, and I’d never be back in time later that day to do it when the light was in the right place — and in a day or two the flooding would be gone anyway. But I got off work early, and there it was. I go past this building almost every day, one way or another, and until recently it housed a working business; but now it’s up for sale or lease, and gentrification can’t be far off (just like much of the rest of my neighbourhood). I can’t help wondering how long it’ll be before this place ends up in another Now And Then article here….
I’m not sure what most people see when they look at this image printed large on my studio wall. It makes a break from the usual body shots and stuff like that — no manipulation or striving here. I’d guess most people don’t look twice at it, but it’s one of my favourite landscape shots of the last few years. I’ve had something like this shot in mind for years — I drive through this part of the Port of Oakland at least weekly, and the place has always fascinated me. It’s pure industry, and although it’s often swarming with trucks and containers and ships and trains at all hours of a typical work day (and night), most Bay Area residents have probably never seen it except from the outside, from one of the freeways or roads that snake along the perimeters. I’m guessing a lot of people who drive past it every day have no idea you can drive through the middle of it, let alone how you get there. This particular shot was taken on West 7th heading back towards West Oakland and Downtown as you go under the main railroad lines and yards that lead into the […]
I’ve talked about this building before (see Featured Image: Castro Street, Oakland, 2007), but it wasn’t long after I took the shot above that the building above became the building below: An interesting transformation, I guess, reflecting some sort of hope that the immediate neighbourhood might get a little more gentrified too. And it did — a bit— over the next couple of years, but back when it first resurfaced like this, it was an isolated place to live, standing out like a sore thumb. A bunch of years later (2015), it’s still an isolated place to live, and it still sticks out like a sore thumb. The new version of the building lacks the visual character it had before, but I’m guessing it’s a bit more pleasant to live in….
I’ve commuted to San Francisco for years now on BART. Back in the mid-2000’s, as you went over West Oakland on the elevated BART way, you could see this ramshackle old apartment building just off to the left at street level in a mostly commercial and industrial neighbourhood. Over the years it got progressively more decrepit until it looked like it must have been condemned; but these things are hard to tell from BART. I kept mentally making a note to go and photograph the place, and every now and then I’d actually ride or drive past it on my way through West Oakland, but the sun was always in the wrong place or the light was bad or (as always seems to happen in West Oakland) there’d be a huge container truck or something similar parked idling right in front of it. Finally I went out on my bike one Sunday morning and managed to get it (more-or-less) right. I think the resulting image does a reasonable job of conveying the isolation of the building, the lack of people on the street (this wasn’t the sort of neighbourhood where most people take casual strolls), the bizarre angles and textures on the […]
Just another Instagram. I drive past this wall and door on East 10th at 23rd Avenue in Oakland near my studio every now and then, always meaning to get a photo, but I’m usually in too much of a hurry to stop. So one day a few months ago I walked there from my studio, pulled out my iPhone, and took this shot. Well, in fact I also took several shots at the same time with my little Canon Powershot G12, but I like this one the best. This is exactly the way it looked back then (it’s still there, but the way it looks changes with the seasons, the graffiti, the weeds, etc.), and I think it conveys the sense of weirdness I always get when I see it — the overwhelming rectangularity (contrasting the radials on the door), the dominant reds and browns, the painted-over graffiti, the slightly-anarchic weeds, and the mystery of a single small door in a large otherwise-unbroken external factory wall. What’s inside? Why is it never open? But there’s more to it than that. Nine years ago I drove by that door early one morning on my way to work and witnessed the confusing aftermath of […]
I used to do street photography with a view camera. Yes, really — bellows, light hood, heavy tripod and all, a bit like Ansel Adams, but with a lot less talent. Not street photography in the sense of waving your camera in the face of snarling or indifferent people on the street, of course, but in the sense of taking photos on the street and of the street. I tend to avoid taking pix of San Francisco because everyone takes photos there (plus I’m a long-term Oaklander who mostly couldn’t care less about SF), but this is one of the few exceptions I made, because, well, I really liked this beautiful exposed wall. It was on an old semi-derelict building on Mission near Third in San Francisco; I used to see it every week on my way down Mission. So early one Sunday morning sometime (I think) in the late 1990’s I set up my 4×5 on Mission Street a little north of Third, and spent a bunch of minutes taking a couple of black-and-white film negs while people wandered past me. It’s one of my favourite rushed get-in / get-out street view camera shots from those days (how do you do rushed […]
Two of my fave Oakland buildings, in what was once one of the rougher neighbourhoods (Dogtown) of a rough city (Oakland, a city I’ve lived in for a long while now). When the buildings were still in use (around the time of the first photo), I always liked the colours, the window shapes, and the confusing geometry of this scene; and, of course, this is a part of town that’s got a lot of associations for me going back many years. A starving artist friend of mine had a (literally) rat-infested studio in a big old tin shed around the corner from here back then (just before the area sprouted a bunch of crappy lifestyle lofts and such), and we’d walk past these buildings on the way up to the shops on Hollis every once in a while, and if the guys sitting in front of the buildings were in the right mood, they’d cadge cigarettes from (or make fun of) “mister artist”. Not long after that first photo, the buildings were apparently slated to be torn down as part of a larger redevelopment; needless to say, that didn’t happen (and, as of late 2014, still hasn’t happened). I’d go […]
I’m not much good at the social realism / street photography thing, mostly because I don’t feel comfortable aestheticising other people’s suffering (in other words, I’m no Diane Arbus or Weegee, and I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to be). But I’d been living in London a few years by the time I took this shot (1987?), and I’d seen these two guys around a lot on Hungerford Bridge over the previous year or so, begging from the tourists and the theatre-goers crossing the river. The guy on the right (“Jimmy”) had been chatting with me for a few minutes this particular day about Ireland and Australia and how he’d ended up begging (a long story I’ve told elsewhere) when he saw my camera (which is usually well-hidden; I’m not one of those people who stroll about with camera gear hanging off them or stuffed into camera bags, etc.). He made me take this picture of them so that “the workers in Australia know what Thatcherism is really like”. I’m always nervous about taking photos like this, but I did it anyway; so far this is the only real example I have. I never saw “Jimmy” again; the man on […]
The Hygenic (sic) Dog Food Co. factory, West Berkeley (“Health Food For Dogs”, as it (still) says on the side of the building). I took this photo with an old Pentax 67 medium format film camera more than two decades ago; the building’s still there now, looking much the same, but surrounded by creeping gentrification. I always wanted to buy the building and turn it into a cafe and bookshop (with a studio upstairs), but I never had the money back when Emeryville and West Berkeley were cheap, and now I don’t have a hope in hell of owning anything in either place.
I live in the Jingletown district of Oakland, California. Nowadays it’s basically a fairly mixed neighborhood with a bunch of artists and galleries along with the inevitable techies and others. But when I moved in all those years ago, it was still semi-industrial (hell, it still is on my side of the street), and very few people actually lived here. I started taking photos of the place immediately, since it was visually interesting — lots of tin sheds, real workshops, small-scale industrial companies, etc. Some of these are still around, but a lot of the older places have either been torn down and completely replaced, or like this place on Glascock Street, renovated in a way that seems to say “high-priced Architect”. It’s pretty typical of some of the changes around here, and in this case at least preserves some of the more interesting bits of the facade, and I kinda like the effect. But it’s also symptomatic of the fact that many of us who’ve lived here for a long time can’t afford to live here any more. But that’s Progress, right? We always get rid of the people who pioneer a place like this and make it attractive….