East Oakland: beautiful, isn't it? Deep in the Flickrs of its residents, the truth is out. Streets plagued by media images of gang violence and poverty are fodder for shots of kid's games and preternatural beauty -- and artists out there that care enough to capture it. Rene Yung, an artist who is heading the Our Oakland project, took issue with the way the community was being portrayed on TV: all the stories she saw were either crime or "rise above" tales of success. "I think so much of people's everyday lives deserve to be celebrated." The website she created for Our Oakland, meant to be a pride pump for this much maligned area of the Bay, sponsored a photography contest to find the photos they knew were out there. They received 22 entries, but this has gotta be due to the vagaries of Internet awareness and less a reflection of the material they sought, cuz they came up with some real pretty pictures. Care for an intro to the civic aesthetes who took the prizes? Wish granted. Check out this week's SFBG for more stellar shots by Bay shutterbugs.
Oacia Williams has lived in East Oakland off and on since 2002. But she hasn't seen too many rainbows there -- at least skyward. The diversity on her street is part of the reason why she loves where she lives. "All the different colors and nationalities, everyone coming together. It is gorgeous," Williams told us during the round of phone interviews we conducted with the Our Oakland winners. She took People's Choice photo "See!! There is a Pot of Gold" (the same shot we picked out as an early favorite in the contest -- see, who says community media isn't influential?) on a day at home playing with her and her boyfriend's kids. "The kids were tripping off the rainbow – first it was one rainbow and then the double. We were able to see it real well, which I was surprised because it was so dark out," Williams remembered. Out came her Samsung. "Im always snapping it because you never know what you can do with it or who needs it." She found out that Our Oakland needed it. Done and done.
"Tug of War" by Pauline Russell-Silva
"It's just an authentic picture – I didn't plan it. It's from the perspective I have as an elementary school teacher, and of the kids in the area where I work," says Pauline Russell-Silva of her first place shot. Russell Silva, a K-5 teacher at Encompass Elementary, Russell-Silva works with children on their English language development and reading skills. Her dynamic shot was taken on field day at Encompass. "We believe in educating the whole child, developing healthy body, mind and spirit," she says. The days outside always end in a tug of war match, and the teacher's Nikon D40 captured the shifting demographics in the East Oakland community. Russell-Silva finds it an apt photo of her neighborhood. "Sometimes there's conflict and strife, sometimes there's people working together." She heard of the contest through the public library adjoining her school.
"Fanea" by Fanea Easterling
"We were so pleased by range of ages of winners in the contest," Yung says. Taking the organization's second place prize (and a Ipod shuffle in the bargain) was young person Fanae Clark, a student at the East Oakland Boxing Association who snapped her winning photo when Our Oakland hosted a photography workshop at the athletic center where she spars. In her artist's statement, she said of her shot. "I also think this image shows hard work, which can get you where you want to be in life." Yung found her shot appealing for the distinct perspective it offers. "As a young person she was being thoughtful relating to her life."
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