Stephen Texeira Celebrates Community Spirit With His Oakland Neighborhood Project
Photographer Stephen Texeira uses his camera to extol the spirit of Oakland in 146 neighborhoods.
For information about Texeira’s project, go to www.OaklandPhoto.org; to contact Texeira, call 415-309-7323, or email Stephen@TexeiraPhoto.com. To learn about Dodson’s film, go to www.TrailheadOakland.org.
Photo by Stephen Texeira
On a recent Friday afternoon in Dimond Park, it was hard to tell who loved Oakland more: Stan Dodson, whose fervor for Oakland parks spurred him to film a documentary on the subject, or Stephen Texeira, who has turned his camera not on the city’s parks, but on its people.
Their passions intersected at an ancient, majestic oak tree in the center of the park, where Texeira was photographing Dodson holding a sign extolling the beauties of Oakland’s parks and the friendly, creative denizens of the Dimond District, where Dotson works as a manager at La Farine bakery.
“Someone told me I really needed to meet Stephen, because we’re both doing cool projects about Oakland,” Dodson said, as he balanced in the crook of the oak tree. “So we got in touch, and he asked if I wanted to be part of his photo project. I said, yes, I’d be honored to. ... I’ve lived all over, but I’ve never seen the spirit like I’ve seen in the Dimond, of merchants and residents working so hard together to improve things. I think this is happening in neighborhoods all over Oakland.”
This speech was nothing new to Texeira, who is on an odyssey to document residents’ love for the city in 146 neighborhoods, from Golden Gate to Durant Manor and everything in between, for his Oakland Neighborhood Project. He has heard it all: the great climate, the boundless diversity, the down-to-earth vibe. And he never tires of it.
“We all know of Oakland’s mixed reputation outside the city,” he said. “But in these neighborhoods, there’s this incredible sense of place and community. I wanted to capture that. It’s a testament to how, in a way, Oakland is one big small town.”
Texeira, a commercial photographer who lives in the Laurel District, started the project in late 2014. Identifying the neighborhoods was the hardest part. Everyone knows Rockridge and Chinatown, for example, but what about the large swaths of East Oakland where the historic neighborhood monikers have been mostly forgotten? Collecting data from librarians, longtime residents, and historians, Texeira was able to identify 146 distinct neighborhoods.
Even the most seasoned Oaklander would be surprised to learn of some of them: Tuxedo (between 14th Avenue, 23rd Avenue, and Interstate 580, not far from Highland Hospital), The Twomps (between 20th Avenue and 29th Avenue near the San Antonio area), and Clawson (southeast of the intersection of interstates 880 and 580).
Texeira’s goal is to photograph residents of each neighborhood, holding signs describing what Oakland means to them. The results have been awe-inspiring, hilarious, educational, and so heartfelt as to move even the most jaded viewer to tears—sometimes all in one photo.
Texeira’s only rule is that the neighborhoods must not be recent concoctions by real estate agents. You won’t find Nobe, for example, nor will you find a pocket of West Oakland that some have dubbed “Far East San Francisco.” Texeira was so put off by that label he’s considering photographing residents of San Francisco and calling it “Far West Oakland.”
“What’s been great about this project is that I’ve found all kinds of people living in all kinds of neighborhoods,” he said. “People in Montclair might not ever go to West Oakland, and vice versa, but I’ve found that in people in every part of the city are basically the same. Wherever you go, people love Oakland.”