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If you’re not going to Oakland for the Open Engagement (OE) conference in April 2016, you’d better have a good excuse. It”ll be great. it’s on the theme of POWER, Angela Davis and Suzanne Lacy are the keynotes and a call for proposals is now open.

“Local, national, and international artists, activists, academics, cultural producers, administrators, curators, educators, writers, thinkers, doers, and makers of all ages are encouraged to propose programming,” says OE.

Proposal deadline: November 2, 2015.

OE is an annual conference about socially engaged art. I’ve been to a couple of past iterations and I recommend.

The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) hosts OE 2016, April 29–May 1. Additional sites throughout the Bay Area will also be satellite venues.

“Power is the ability to make desired results happen,” says René de Guzman, OE 2016 curator. “We invite participants to explore this concept broadly and expansively. What is power in the present age? How do we effectively demand it—and how we create it for ourselves? What are the innovative strategies for empowerment before us? What are the mechanisms by which we ensure fair and equitable distribution of power for all? How do we conceive of ourselves and how do we share power with others?”

“Founded in 2007, OE is the only conference on this subject of this scale that operates on an inclusive open call model that supports emerging and established artists and collaborates closely with national institutions,” says OE.

They’re asking for proposals for presentations, panels, discussions, workshops, events and interventions. Logistical support projects and social gatherings are also welcome.

You also win points if your proposal is site specific or in some way reflexive. In plain language, get to know Oakland and Oaklanders. Better still, propose collaborations with some locals.

OE wants you to know that “OMCA brings together collections of art, history, and natural science under one roof, featuring indoor venues with capacities ranging from 6–260, including a hot tub lounge and a partial airplane, and outdoor spaces that can accommodate 50–500, including the garden and Peace Terrace.”


A good resource to plug your photo-brain into the prerogatives of OE is Photography As A Social Practice. I am an occasional contributor. Also, check out the recent projects sponsored by the Magnum Foundation’s Photography Expanded program.

Please take a peek at my review of the exhibition Social in Practice: The Art of Collaboration, curated by Deborah Willis and Hank Willis Thomas.

Finally, you cannot miss the e-book Wide Angle: Photography As A Participatory Practice edited by Terry Kurgan and Tracy Murinik.



Geekfest,a gathering of a motley bunch of photographers young and old begins tonight in Oakland.

Above is an early flier. Below is the full line-up. I’m speaking in the final spot on Sunday afternoon. I still have no idea what I’ll do or speak about. Really. I think the organisers think I’m joking but, nope, totally undecided.


AK Press stock after the fire


Stop what you’re doing. Listen up. Help out.

There was a massive fire in Oakland this weekend. Two people died. 30 people have been relocated from the now charred, smoky, water-damaged buildings. This is a costly tragedy from every angle you look at it. My respects go out to the victims and the victims’ friends and families.

The structure that went up was behind and attached to a building in which AK Press and 1984 Printing — two of Oakland’s phenomenal political publishing operations — operated. They lost paper stock, computers, presses, book inventory and more.

Here’s why they are both so impressive and this is why you should throw them some cash.

AK Press has published and distributed anarchist literature since 1990. It is worker run and collectively managed. Over the years, it has put out some of the staples of my library — including Captive Nation by Dan Berger, Resistance Behind Bars by Vikki Law, and Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis.

AK has consistently raised the bar for analysis of the prison industrial complex, state violence, violence against women and many other social justice urgencies. AK has built community and audience for radical writers. Precisely because the work has to be in the world, AK has to be in the world. Nobody does it better.

1984 Printing is one of the very few all-women-owned businesses I know. They’re happy, open, dog-loving crafts folk who turn the presses not to turn profit but to build knowledge for a better society. Amy and Richard know all their clients by first name and care for each and every project.

1984 does the best offset printing around — they’ve printed the two Carville Annex Press books So Many Mountains But This One Specifically, by Junior Clemons and It Hasn’t Stopped Being California Here, by Jordan Karnes. They also printed Rian Dundon’s Out Here series.

Yesterday, buildings were redtagged by the City of Oakland, meaning both operations are prohibited from occupying the warehouse and shops and shut down until further notice.

AK is raising money. GIVE

1984 is raising money. GIVE

If all you have between now and sanity is beer money and a punk spirit there’s a fundraising outlet for that with a benefit gig at 924 Gilman on May 9th.

Follow the situation at AK Press’ Facebook and Twitter and blog.

Follow 1984 on Facebook and the blog.




Brandon Tauszik moved to Oakland from San Diego three years ago. He’s got a day job. Some of his images are a little raw — check his Instagram feed @BE_DIZZLE. Tauszik was for a while assistant to the legendary Jim Goldberg. He’s also a big fan of TBW Books the small publisher just down the road run by Paul Schiek. I haven’t asked Tauszik but I reckon he’s probably a fan of the Hamburger Eyes folks too.

Tauszik is making the Bay Area his home and the aesthetic of his work makes obvious sense amid the prevalent scratched-up, banged-up, gritty, kids-street-realism typical of California. Less obvious though are the motives, goals and choices within Tauszik’s latest body of work White Wax

White Wax is a year-long visual document of memorials to homicide victims on the streets of Oakland. Tauszik says in his artist statement that his photos are to serve as a medium for self-examination. He thinks America is in the middle of a collective re-examination of its criminal justice policy, gun culture and post-racial credo.

White Wax is also,I suspect, a means by which Tauszik can remain connected to the place he lives. Unfortunately, for most people, murders are pretty easy to ignore; they just have to stay off the wrong streets. Some Oaklanders don’t have that luxury though.

“Why has the ecology of the American inner city long enabled it’s own self-destruction?” asks Tauszik. “Is it possible to shift our tired narrative of another young black man memorialized with white wax?”






Prison Photography (PP):  Why take on this project?

Brandon Tauszik (BT): Oakland is a violent city, but America is a violent country. Its inner cities particularly so. There is already a great deal of photography approaching this subject with a kind of coarse imagery. We’ve all seen it over and over. I asked myself, ‘How can I photograph gun violence without showing any guns? How can I create an emotional project without showing victims or mourners? How can I approach a politically charged subject, yet leave cops and politicians out of it?’ I hope that with these images I am able to communicate something beyond just melted wax on the sidewalk.

PP:  I used to live in San Francisco and there was a bizarre media obsession about the annual homicide rate, as if people were waiting for it to meet or surpass the previous year’s figure. Oakland was always the depressing counterpoint to SF figures as it suffered 2 to 3 times the number of murders. Briefly, can you describe your experience of information, conversation, attitudes about murder? Surely, beyond figures there’s talk of interventions and solutions? Basically, what should Oaklanders do?

BT: That’s a loaded question! There is a lot of social inequality in the Bay Area and particularly here in Oakland. Having been largely de-industrialized over the past few decades, Oakland is currently in the midst of a strong wave of gentrification. Despite this new influx of higher income residents, the crime rate has barely shifted in the past decade. It’s currently the most dangerous city on the west coast and has the highest robbery rate in the whole country. People blame this on the understaffed police department, the economy, the gangs, the guns, whatever.

It’s uncomfortable to address, but ultimately this isn’t about “What should Oakland do?” but instead “What should America do?” In New York City, Memphis, Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles (the list goes on and on) young men of color kill and are killed more than any other demographic. We’ve ignored violence in our country because the victims don’t look like us. As one African American mother told me at a memorial, “We have been living a daily Sandy Hook and it’s time for the nation to know.”

There are some very strong local organizations (SAVEKhadafy FoundationRJOY) that do amazingly important work, but ultimately this is about a flawed national mindset in regards to prisons, guns and race relations.









PP:  Is White Wax a memorial? A study of vernacular action? Other? Both?

BT: It’s more a study in the unique and visually distinct way that my neighbors mourn the loss of their loved ones. Or in your words, a study of vernacular action.

PP:  Was it important to commit to this for one year?

BT: Every big city has their yearly homicide count which is obsessed over and analyzed as strictly data. I wanted to see what that data would look like in context of the shrines, which are a direct result of that count.

PP:  White Wax images are taken at night. Was this a deliberate choice? If so, why?

BT: I wanted to capture these scenes as naturalistically as possible. The majority of these murders take place under the cover of darkness, so while this makes my work more difficult and dangerous, nighttime is one of the threads I use to tie the images together.

PP: I know you use Shine In Peace, Google Alerts and word of mouth to discover homicides. Do you fear White Wax has omitted some homicides just as the local news often misses/overlooks these murders? If you have missed some what does that mean?

BT: I’ve definitely missed some, due to a few reasons:

1. These memorials are, by nature, ephemeral and are displayed for anywhere from one day to many weeks. Sometimes I find a site I’ve missed where there are still traces of wax, but the shrine has been removed.

2. The given victim’s family and friends sometimes don’t erect a shrine. If the murder took place in a particular neighborhood where the victim was not welcome, that will usually apply to the victim’s family and acquaintances as well.

3. Many of these murders get little to no media exposure. For example, here is an example of a web-only murder story from last year. I rely on Oakland’s news outlets to report on (or at least tweet on) each murder. However there is low motivation to do so due to the very limited readership on these stories.

There are usually a few murders a week here, so unfortunately it can be hard for me to keep up.








PP:  What about captions? Is there a need (from you or audience) to include information about the homicide?

BT: I have the name/age/race/sex/location information for most of these murders. However, captions have a didactic manner of reducing a photograph down to data and information, which is what I am trying to avoid. A recent study showed that Americans assume black people feel less pain than white people. This is deeply frightening. I want the viewer to ponder these images and wonder, ‘Was this person someone who looked like me?’

PP: What’s been the reaction from folks in Oakland to White Wax?

BT: I have been sitting on this project until very recently. I wanted to give it time to fill in and for the thesis to take shape. The local people I’ve showed it to so far seem to think it’s strong and thoughtful. I would love to arrange an exhibition towards the end of the year in Oakland.

PP: Which photographers are working in ways that you admire and value?

BT: When I first moved to the Bay Area, I assisted Jim Goldberg for a while. That was a pivotal time for me which pulled me away from strict photojournalism toward longer, in-depth projects. Lately though I’ve been into Harry GriffinYoshi Kametani, and Viviane Sassen.

PP:  What’s the purpose of photography? What should we be trying to do?

BT: We have ears to hear, but also eyes to see. The spoken word can only accomplish so much. You can sometimes say so much without using your mouth … a gesture, a glance.

For me, photography acts as a medium to illuminate ideas and questions on all aspects life.







Brandon Tauszik is a photographer and filmmaker based in Oakland, California. He creates visual media at Sprinkle Lab while pursuing personal photography projects.


© Thomas Hawk

Thomas Hawk’s images are being used by police to pursue Oakland looters:

“I recognized several of the photographs that the Oakland PD had released as my own photos that I’d taken the night of the riots and had posted to my own Flickr account. I was never contacted by the Oakland PD regarding their use or distribution by Oakland PD. It’s interesting to see law enforcement taking photos by citizen media and using them this way.”

Under Creative Commons (which these images were) there is no problem with anyone, including police, “to copy, distribute and transmit the work” provided they attach attribution. Unfortunately, the Oakland Police Department didn’t name Hawk as the photographer, seemingly passing the images off as their own.

Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle article in which Hawk found his photographs.


If an individual and the law don’t agree to the point the individual is imprisoned, one hopes lawful imprisonment changes the individual, right? For the better, right?

Unfortunately, American prisons have proved the opposite of rehabilitative or hopeful of positive change. Recidivism rates in America are between 60% and 68% (depending on the source).

"Prison has changed you, Mom" © 2009 Marshall for the New Yorker

"Prison has changed you, Mom" © 2009 Marshall for the New Yorker

Spurred possibly by the fiscal-driven prisoner releases across the nation, Marshall penciled this pearl.

Some of the best comedy is simultaneously tragedy. The truth is America’s prison archipelago has bruised the lives of the current 2.2 million prison population, the lives of family members AND our lives and communities. Inmates returning to society haven’t been suitably prepared or shown new paths. Change has been for the worse in majority of cases.

I was astonished to read this AlertNet article. It excavates the background to Lovelle Mixon’s massacre in Oakland that killed four people.

I cannot agree with the article’s logic 100%. It would be a sad day if I ever presumed the individual totally powerless and unable to act upon non-violent decisions, but as the author writes:

“Though Mixon’s killing spree is a horrible aberration, his plight as an unemployed ex-felon isn’t. There are tens of thousands like him on America’s streets. In 2007, the National Institute of Justice found that 60 percent of ex-felon offenders remain unemployed a year after their release.”

It is not easy to resist the urge to think of mass-murderous crimes as the singular actions of an individual.

I appreciate Earl Ofari Hutchinson‘s article because it brings together the many invisible and minor trials in life that collectively make daily stress unbearable. I finished the article amazed that there are fewer desperate crimes akin to Mixon’s. An uncomfortable thought.

Again, Hutchinson reminds us that the problems of incarceration, recidivism, education, unemployment and crime are inseparable:

Washington, D.C. is a near textbook example of that. Nearly 3,000 former prisoners are released and return to the district each year. Most fit the standard ex-felon profile. They are poor, with limited education and job skills, and come from broken or dysfunctional homes. Researchers again found that the single biggest factor that pushed them back to the streets, crime, violence and, inevitably, repeat incarceration was their failure to find work.

Q. Why do we warehouse people, break them, and then return them to society in a poorer position to cope?

A. Punitive and immovable laws, collective arrogance & utter denial.

With an estimated 600,000 prisoners either released or due for release in 2009, it’s about time we make a small change in our accomodations – especially given the size of change we expect of former prisoners.


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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