When Oacia5804 (her screen name) was asked on the Our Oakland website to contribute an image that told a story about her East Oakland home, she didn't rip her shot off of the TV news. The mother of two sent in an amazing shot of her kids pointing up at a rainbow looping perfectly over a neighborhood street. “Even tho [sic] the streets of East Oakland seem dark at times, There is Always a ray of light that will shine and inspire Greatness,” writes the photographer in the shot's caption. That's exactly the kind of alternative narrative that Our Oakland, a non profit that is gathering stories for incorporation into a public arts project, hopes to publicize. They're calling for submissions for a photo contest (submissions accepted until Thurs/8) that want to challenge our perceptions of what East Oakland looks like.
“Each contest photo reshapes the image of East Oakland,” states Rene Yung in the press release for the competition. And it does need a certain amount of retooling, that image. What do you think about when you think East Oakland? Unfortunately, we've been somewhat programed with a negative answer. It's detrimental to the reasoning skills of people who have to listen to an endless reel of news about drug deals and prostitution outside of the neighborhood, but what does that negative imaging mean to the people that live on those streets that are so often pictured behind yellow caution tape, or gone "wild" with gang activity?
Yung created the website as part of a project she's doing for the East Oakland Community Library, in which she's integrating art with community voice. The finished product will include a digital archive of stories about the neighborhood as told by residents, and a 64-foot bank of etched glass windows that are meant to invoke the interconnectedness of the community. At the moment, the website includes user generated written narrative -- but the photo contest is Our Oakland's big deal at the moment. “Each photographer is taking charge of what the public gets to see and hear about the community, and, in the process, is changing the conversation about East Oakland,” says Yung.
To build awareness about the photo contest (and the prizes, natch -- whooo wants some schmancy electronics?), Our Oakland has been staging a series of events that focus on building story telling skills and technological expertise in taking photos. It's spread the news about the project at Lao Family Community Development, an organization that promotes social self-sufficiency in Southeastern Asian families, Our Oakland's booth encouraged kids and families to write down and illustrate their stories on big, fun pieces of construction paper. Our Oakland has also conducted photo workshops for the kids at the Allendale Recreational Camp and the Tassafaronga Recreation Center.
But shooting's open to all, so tell your mamma, tell a friend, get those photos in. We can widen that running commentary we all have to hear about East Oakland -- and maybe even change some minds on what a strong community looks like.
For more information on the My East Oakland photo contest, go here. Entries are due by Thurs/8.