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The backs of two men walking away halfway down a long hallway. In the foreground is a black square mat with the words 'UPTOWN STATION" in white within a white circle

Oaklanders are the art in new Uptown Station exhibit

on October 20, 2023

Over the past few months, two photographers have been roaming Oakland’s streets, striving to capture the style of the city. Their work, a collection of 100 portraits, will debut to the public on Saturday at the “100 Faces of Oakland” photo exhibit at Uptown Station.

The free exhibit, open from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., is part of the inaugural Oakland Style Week, a new series of more than 50 events that opened this week and runs through Sunday. It includes everything from costume contests to cocktail tastings. The exhibit will showcase a huge body of work from local photographers Brian Molyneaux and Kola Shobo that aims to elevate Oakland’s everyday people — and its most stylish ones.

“For me the goal was to highlight Oakland how I see it,” said Shobo, a fashion and event photographer who’s lived in Oakland for over 20 years. For him, style manifests not just in people’s clothing but also in their facial expressions, mannerisms and how they interact with his camera. 

Molyneaux, a commercial and editorial photographer, has been living in the Bay Area for 18 years and taking photos of people he meets on the street for seven and a half, loosely in the style of “Humans of New York.” Though clothing is one of the first things he notices about people, he sees that as just the first layer.

One photo shows three women's faces: to the left is a Black woman with her braided hair in a bun; she is smiling broadly and wearing a shirt with stripes of green, black, blue, red, yellow and orange. In the middle is a white woman with bleached hair, glasses resting on her head, red lipsticked lips, pink eye shadow completely covering her lids, a hot pink turtlened visible under a white jacket. To the right is an Asian woman with long, straight red hair and bangs, long sticklike earings, and big round glasses over blue shadowed eyelids.
Brian Molyneaux’s portraits from his ongoing street photography (© Brian Molyneaux)

“I look for who they are,” Molyneaux says of choosing subjects. “When I meet people I’m trying to find everything.” 

Shobo and Molyneaux were each randomly assigned half of what Visit Oakland, the organization behind the event, designates as the city’s 19 neighborhoods. They each had roughly two months to photograph 50 different people.

Shobo is used to driving from his studio to set locations where lighting is controlled and models’ hair, makeup and wardrobe are curated. Getting back on the ground and walking around the city was a special experience.

“Tapping into that soul of the city was fun and beautiful,” he said. 

Joy, connection, love

For Molyneaux, who has photographed thousands of people in Oakland as part of an ongoing street photography project, this was a natural extension of the work he loves to do.

“I want to connect with as many people as I can while I’m here on this planet,” he said, “so I can learn more about these people and learn more about myself in the process.”

Along the way, Molyneaux met and photographed people like Ruby Pearl, who calls herself a “vulva liberation artiivist (artavist), crone and witch,” and someone named Mitotiani, who shared his wealth of ancestral Ohlone knowledge.

Renée Roberts, director of public relations and communications for Visit Oakland, called Oakland Style Week, “a celebration of the amazing people and talent that is Oakland.”

Both Shobo and Molyneaux acknowledge that the exhibit comes at a particularly challenging time for the city as it faces rising crime rates

“If you love a place and you’re actually invested in the progress of that place, you have to be active in the work that has to go into the progression,” said Shobo. “Little celebrations of the city are part of the work that needs to be done.”

Molyneaux calls the project one of “joy and connection and love.” Both invited all the people they photographed to the exhibit.

“I think that anyone that attends the event can connect with beautiful portraits of their neighbors and community members,” Molyneaux said. “The beauty of Oakland is the people.”

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  1. michellefoxs on May 22, 2024 at 4:53 am

    It was a wonderful exhibit that truly revealed the essence of Oakland and its vibrance. Thanks a lot to Brian Molyneaux and Kola Shobo who brought the unique styles and stories of the people who make this city so special. I’m excited to attend and see the beauty of Oakland, but due to the huge workload at college, I do not have any free time. That’s why I prefer to ask experts for help for help with my tasks. Hope to visit Oaklandnorth soon. Thank you, Lisa Plachy, for sharing this story about the art and soul of our city.

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