Last Call in Oakland (Diptych)

There’s a bar in Oakland (which I won’t mention by name here to keep it out of the wrong ears) that has a fun tradition where the bartenders light the bar on fire when they make the last call for drinks.  It’s places like this that have shifted the tide in night life in Oakland.

Being a transplant from Los Angeles, I too went through the phase where I thought I had to go to “the city” (a.k.a San Francisco) to find down-to-earth, unpolished, almost grimy joints where unique progressive folk of all classes gather for a drink.  If that’s what you are looking for and live in or near Oakland you can join me in saying, “Forget San Francisco!”  Seriously,  its been months since I’ve felt the need to dip into the coolness of the city because Oakland IS where it’s at.   If this shot doesn’t convince you of the fact that Oakland is hot and the place to be in the Bay Area, take a walk in Uptown Oakland (on Telegraph Ave.) any given Friday Night and see for yourself.

I can’t celebrate the freshness and dynamic energy I have encountered out in Oakland nights without making a second observation lamenting the underside of the first. And that that this shot also signals another kind of last call for Oakland. For many who grew up in Oakland and the East Bay in general know that it’s been the home for communities of color who could not  afford to live in San Francisco.  Oakland’s recent renaissance has pushed large segments of communities of color out the last four years. Things are at a critical point if you appreciate property maps that illustrate neighborhood foreclosure rates.

If you happen upon this place before the buffers and homogenous modern design floods out the fun, dynamic, colorful vibe Oakland nights have to offer, look around and ask yourself whose missing as we further into the last days of Oakland as we know it.

–JMG

HTC One M8 (cell phone camera, f. 2.0/ 1/30 / ISO 125)

The Magic Carpets of Town Park

Oakland’s Defremery Park has a special place in Oakland history because of the role it played in the late 60s to convene Oakland’s black community in defense of Huey P. Newton when he was charged for the murder of a police officer.  Town Park’s history is relatively recent but the spirit of the Black Panthers struggles for equal protection and civic participation is not lost since the funds to build out Town Park were raised by and for the West Oakland community.  Empowering projects like this are remarkable because they also empower those who both work on and benefit from opening public space.

Taken during one of Oakland’s most meaningful, community driven festivals, Life Is Living, this set captures the dynamic energy and form.    Beside the main stage, good food, and healthy, balanced living theme, I often visit to see the Extreme sports that go on in a section of Defremery Park known as Town Park.  In true gonzo photography fashion, what the camera froze on frame shows that the lens is an active participant in the way subject’s act and react in front of it.  I went of my way to publish some of these because it was evident the young men in them went out of their way to give me fabulous shots.  I was very appreciative of their “hard skating” and the way they tolerated an intruding eye as they glide and bust tricks on their magic carpets.

–JMG

Eastward Wind

 

Totally processed, noisy, and shot from my cell phone, the frame stands because there’s something interesting about how the Eastward wind unfurls the flag as it’s flooded with light. Scenes like this interest me because they show how symbol and structure coalesce.

Those who look closely might find a strong resemblance in this flag to the one planted on the moon by the first Apollo mission. Our lives are so entwined and predicated by ever present patriotism that we often forget that staking flags like this are often acts of domination and statements of power. In this shot concrete and cloth coalesce in a gritty way to draw out the ambivalence of American power, from the colonial period to the post-Industrial present. Depending on where you stand in relation to the colonial difference, one will ether feel pride or disdain when encountering scenes like this.

— JMG

Holding Back Desire

Oakland’s regular Friday Nights party draws out my photographic sensibility because there is a range of emotions it opens to capture with a camera. The outdoor amphitheater always challenges my technical skills as I like to shoot low light situations without flash.

This shot says tons about desire self control. It reflects the internal conversation we must have to not act on what we most want. That observation is most evident in the subject’s gaze into the wand. Holding back desire can also be read into the background. I think many would agree an interesting kind of tension is present when one encounters a fabulous dance partner.  In those rare cases, one has to hold back desire to actually get on with the dancing.

–JMG

Romance By the Bay

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Romance by the Bay, Berkeley CA, Summer 2016.

One of the things I think photographers like Cartier-Bresson had over many American street photographers is the fact that outward displays of affection are hard to find in the U.S. Growing up in Los Angeles I know the quip “get a room” all too well because it’s the off-handed observation most make when they presence public displays of affection. This became starkly evident on trips to Mexico city, where there seems to be more of an outward expressiveness between couples– young and old. Plaza’s, restaurants, train stations, lovers seem to be

This scene revealed itself once I made it up the hill as I was trying to get closer to the kites in the background there at Cesar Chavez park in Berkeley. I had to make sure not to make them self-conscious as I waited for some folks to clear far enough to set of the foreground from the background. I did the classic look to the opposite direction and walked back to get enough space to get a wide shot. The day was extremely sunny so getting the contrast right in post was the toughest in this shot.

–JMG

Shot on Olympus OMD-EM5 / LUMIX G VARIO 14-45/ F3.5-5.6

Any Man

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Any Man, San Francisco, CA, Summer 2016.

This was an early evening shot at a Bart station in Down Town San Francisco. I was getting ready to jump on a train, eating a soft serve cone when my eyes began to see the potential of the space below come together.

At first glance my attention was drawn because the pigeons in the background were circling the courtyard en masse. I was looking to catch the action of folks walking into the station below and the ball of birds soaring above. I hovered shooting a few minutes after I took the last bite of the cone because of the action and the shadows but the lull of people trying to catch the train revealed a homeless man. I’m not sure if he was selling Street Spirit or just asking for money but it was clear he was doing one or the other after a few minutes of observation. By that time all but the bird caught on this frame flying were grounded. I think the end result says much more than the moment. Since we cannot see the detail of the figure he can stand for any man. The bird above him adds a symbol of freedom to contrast the grounded man below.

***See more of my photography at oaklandphotojournal.com***

— JMG

Shot w/ OLYMPUS OMD-EM5 DIGITAL CAMERA                                                                         Lumix G Vario 14-45 mm, f./4.0, 1/200, 200 ISO

A Series of Decisive Moments (Piñata Sequence)

PiñataSequence

A Series of Decisive Moments (Piñata Sequence), Oakland CA, Summer 2016.

 

Blindfold or no blindfold this kid was going to smash something. You can tell it was all about delivering a kill shot on the pinãta because most kids go for the candy and this kid didn’t even think twice about it when he saw he took it down. In true Steph Curry fashion he walks off cool as ice. Tilden National Park casting a shadow on the ground and the reactions of my bestie’s engagement party guests are my favorite part of the picture.

I have been enjoying getting to know my OMD-EM5. Like any new camera it has its plus and minus side. Overall I love that I can carry it around given its size, and to be quite honest, its price. No matter how fabulously clean shots I might get from a full frame, high end DSLR, I wouldn’t fell comfortable using it as a “commuter.” That’s what I call the M5 because I take to work everyday in case inspiration strikes between the parking lot and the office. This sequence was shot withe a Lumix f.1.8 / 14-35mm, a very clean lens when optimal focus is achieved.

–JMG

Diablos Domingueros

Diablos Domingueros, Oakland, CA, Winter 2015.

Diablos Domingueros, Oakland, CA, Winter 2015

Grupo San Miguel Cuevas, Nuu Yuku from Fresno, CA doing a traditional Oxacan dance. Hand-made wooden masks with 3 feet long horns adorn their heads. They whip and lash as they dance to a banda’s “tambora”.

This group caravanned into Oakland to dance for the Alliance of California Traditional Arts and the Smithsonian Insititute’s Life Ways Recordings programs, which will air on Radio Bilingue.

 

—JMG

Zeta’s Lupe

Zeta's Lupe, Oakland, CA, Fall 2014

Zeta’s Lupe, Oakland, CA, Fall 2014

 

Unique threads out on Oakland nights. I noticed this young woman and could not get my eyes off her unique sense of style. I had to work up the courage to see if she would humor me when I asked if I could shoot some of her tattoos and unique top. She told me the top was hand made by her grandmother and was handed down to her recently. She was more than happy to let me shoot her with my HTC One (M8).

I wish I would have had my Nikon, but this worked good enough as I could not let the opportunity go by without a shot. Since she was happy to pose, I regret not asking her to give me a profile of her face with this pose.

Alas, on the pursuit of the aura on the street and dive bars of San Francisco Bay area.