This 4-minute episode of TalkOakland follows two street photographers in Oakland as they discuss the art of street photography and the changes they've experienced from gentrification. Allen is a transplant to the Bay Area. He’s from the Central Valley. He moved to the Bay Area nine years ago. And Nai is a native to the Bay Area, currently living in Richmond.
Below is the full interview from Allen.
Kim: What motivates you to take pictures?
Allen: I think it’s really important for everybody to understand that you’re capable of telling your story - visually and through the different content platforms. It’s important that you take control of that. If you have the ability to take ownership of your own content, then why not do it? Take it as far as you can. We’re in a position now where we're able to compete with Fortune 500 companies. Take advantage of every opportunity that we have right now to jump in the game.
Photography by Allen Walker
Kim: When did you first notice gentrification in Oakland?
Allen: When I would hear the stories of gentrification and things changing over the last ten years, I didn’t have the same idea of these changes everybody was talking about. But over the last two years, everything happened so fast. And it takes you back how fast something can change. And it also made me realize how quickly we have to be on our toes to keep up with the changes of life. We can’t be so stuck in our ways that we can’t keep up with the changes of life that things past us by.
Kim: How has gentrification affected the photos that you take?
Allen: When you realize that you’re not going to be able to see the Tribune Tower anymore from a certain angle - that means it’s time to make moves as fast as this city is making moves. Game don’t wait. It’s evident - there’s no argument, this a completely different city.
Kim: Can you describe the changes?
Allen: You can’t even get your kids a pair of shoes in Downtown Oakland anymore. I’m not sure you can even get a pair of jeans or go to a diner at any hour because you get a sense of the future and it looks a like a Dystopian future now. There was people fishin’ out the lake this morning! And three years ago, if I saw that, I don’t know what my reaction would’ve been. Some of the changes you see happening in Oakland you don’t think you would ever see in America.
And it sucks because that’s not the reputation that Oakland has. But when you’re not included in the discussion of what’s going on in the City, these types of things happen. And it’s important that instead of being nostalgic about how things were and upset about how things were going, we get with the movement. It’s time to step it up. Whatever it was that was the reality of an older Oakland is completely different now. ‘Cause I mean, they buildin’ on top of us!
Kim: Have you tried to benefit from this influx of wealth into the city?
Allen: If we’re going to get into some business, then I’m trying to get into some business. Technology is changing. If they’re making apps, I want to make apps. If people are using content marketing, then I’m trying to get down with digital marketing. My childhood experience wasn’t one that said I needed to watch out for things that were suppose to hold me back. I wanted a tech job in the first place. I’ve gotten those jobs. It’s difficult seeing Oakland changing the way it is and so many people feeling like they can’t be included in that. It sucks when you try to help people into it and you get met with a push back. But I do got a a whole lot of hope for where things are going.
Kim: What inspires you most about Oakland?
Allen: The thing that inspires me the most about Oakland is you’re able to just be yourself here. No one is going to tell you that you’re supposed to be a certain way. I’ve lived in some places where everybody had to be the same, and if you didn’t get with the program, you’d be an outsider.
Kim: Talk more about your photography.
Allen: If a picture needs to be taken, I’ll shoot it. I usually have my camera in my hand every time I walk out the house, it doesn’t matter what the occasion is. I probably spend more time roaming these streets than I should. I don’t consider it a waste of time. But I burn a lot of minutes taking the long way home - taking an extra turn, treating every second outside like it’s a photo shoot. Photography is definitely therapy for me.
Kim: What kind of stuff do you like to shoot?
Allen: When I’m on the street, the thing that I like to shoot most is shade and finding balance in the different shapes that the city creates. I’m not necessarily shooting the same things as other people. I’m looking at warmth, temperature, details in low lights.
Kim: What’s your favorite camera to use?
Allen: My favorite camera to use is whatever camera in my hand at the time! It don’t matter which camera. I have two with me right now. This my old thang - this Canon 7D. I don’t even know what year this came out. I’m not sure what other people did with this camera when it came out. Without this, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into photography like I did. It’s the most durable thing- and it did everything that I needed it to do for a long time.
I started off with the 7d and the 50mm lens - it’s broken up on me in half a couple of times but I kept shooting with it. I also have this Sony a6500 with a Sigma 20mm lens - and this thing is beat up. I don’t have a lens cover for any of my lenses. As long as it don’t have a crack in it, I think it’s good. It’s not going to keep me from getting down with the people I look up to. I feel like my work is getting closer to theirs. It’s just from straight up practice. Practice, and then practice some more, and then when you tired of practice, go shoot some shots while you’re about to go practice.
Kim: How did you learn photography?
Allen: I learned a lot from the Internet. Google it. There’s pretty much nothing that you want to learn that’s not online. If you're not sure what’s better at getting a good tone - a faster shutter speed or higher ISO - Google it, it’s on YouTube. There’s five guys telling you how to do the same thing five different ways. The best way you can get out and learn anything is just to do it. I believe if all I had was an iphone, a Canon T2i, I would’ve learned how to whip it.
Kim: What's the hardest thing about photography?
Allen: The hardest thing about photography is shooting with intent. I couldn’t shoot at all if I didn’t have any subject. But once I gave myself a reason to take the photos, I gave myself more reasons to take photos. I built that muscle. I joke all the time- I can take a picture of a paper clip!