THIS IS THE LONG-TERM STORY I'VE BEEN WORKING ON FOR 7 YEARS and it's growing so much I've had to divide it into sections. For my very latest work in West Oakland see the "WHAT I'M WORKING ON NOW" gallery on my homepage.
Hillary. I happened upon Hillary sitting on a curb, getting ready to "go out." She was oiling her body, painting her toenails, and finally strapping on high heels. She explained: "I'm doing this for myself." Her children knew what she did, she said, and her "wife" was sitting across the street. (You can just see her in the distant group of woman.) I asked Hillary if she was trans and she said, "No, I'm all woman" and flashed me a glimpse of what seemed to be a vagina though not exactly in the right place. When I jumped back in surprise, she rolled her eyes, reached into her purse, and showed me a letter from Social Security. It was addressed to Hillary with her last name. I wish I had taken down her address since everything about her still seems mysterious. (Click thumbnails for full size.)
The corner of 8th and Campbell is a hangout in the Lower Bottoms neighborhood, one the police know well. The Yemeni immigrant who works in the liquor store makes frequent 911 calls. I'd heard the corner was dangerous from people living in the area, but whenever I drove by I'd see older folk sitting in chairs and kids playing outside, and a lot of people laughing and joking. There were some guys on one of the corners, maybe dealers, but they seemed to know everyone. The Yemeni woman who lives above the store said she likes living on the corner. People know her and no one has ever bothered her so lets her children play outside. Click thumbnails for full size and hover over photos to see captions.
Bob Rosenberg is one of a kind. He's a San Francisco-born Jewish guy, almost 50 now, and a long-time meth user. He's also a decent mechanic who can get just about any old truck or car to run. He makes money in the scrap-metal and auto-recycling business and has become a kind of Godfather to the lost souls and addicts of Oakland's Lower Bottoms. They come to him for advice, for temporary clean-up jobs, and for old vans and mobile homes to sleep in. He explodes in anger occasionally, but people put up with it because they need his help, think he is smart, and know he is always honest. I've never seen him without a girlfriend. Click thumbnails for full size.
On the street in the Lower Bottoms/Peralta neighborhood. There is a lot of street life in West Oakland's residential areas, which is great for a photographer. Click thumbnails for full size.
Alliance Metals is (was) an old recycling center on the edge of West Oakland that was closed by the city August 27th, 2016. It closed because of neighborhood protests and a large development in the works. During the day, poor folk would drive up to Alliance in loaded cars and trucks, and desperately poor folk would walk in pushing shopping carts. Inside, everyone worked hard to sort their treasure and leave with a little cash. Some of the cash was probably spent on liquor and drugs but most of it supplemented poverty-level incomes. The film "Dogtown Redeemption" made the case for keeping the center open as a cottage industry serving the homeless and the working poor, but the city council sided with the neighbors. (The photos of religious "healers" were taken outside of Alliance and the photos in color are of Alliance"s closing.) Click thumbnails for full size.
RIP: Rest in Peace. There are a lot of murders in West Oakland, most of it black men killing other black men -- for "nothing" as the old-timers say. A woman. An insult. Mistakes. This sequence was taken at a “Repast" (the party after a funeral) for Donald, a 21-year-old man who wasn't in a gang and who's grandmother called him "a Mama's boy" meaning he liked to cook, spend time with his kids, and visit his ailing grandmother. He had three young sons, two Baby Mamas, and had never had a job, but in the Lower Bottoms that seems to be OK. The Baby Mamas are the ones who ssually work. Donald was shot and killed while sitting, almost asleep, in the backseat of a van whose driver was the actual target. Most of these murders in West Oakland don't make the news, but the lives lost are always deeply mourned. Click thumbnails for full size.