Portrait of a Chinatown Pop-up Grocer

 

 

Oakland’s Chinatown is all about getting a bargain on fresh food. Close enough to the Port of Oakland and Oakland’s central produce market, you can’t beat the prices on fresh greens, pork, poultry, or fresh sea food (from cat fish to eel).

Lately I have been preoccupied, pondering why photography seems to gravitate to these ethnic enclaves.  One can read Chinatown photographs as a kind of internal travel photography that at some level objectifies the subjects it captures.   Weary of enacting the colonial gaze, I battle with my desire to shoot as an outsider.

This shot illustrates the anxiety I articulate above because I wanted to make a portrait of this friendly pop-up fruit seller as she seemed friendly enough but every time I pointed that lens at her she raised her hand as if saying hello, but blocking her face on purpose.  After the fourth click I realized that was the shot: her clean, tidy fruit set up waiting for the next customer to sell her handful of goods. I like the shot because it was clear it was ok for me to take the shot, but it needed to be done on her terms, stripping away the power of the camera and a potential colonial gaze.

I began this series because more and more, this corner of Oakland is becoming dear to me and I fear that it is only a matter of time before the sea-change that is rapidly transforming the cityscape also claims Chinatown for the sake if new luxury development.  It’s only a matter of time, thus the Chinatown Hustle series seeks to document its working life and people.

 

–JMG

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