Oakland, California has been my home going on twelve years now. For a person who moved every two years for the fifteen years prior, that says something. I could always come up with a good reason to move- school, a job, a guy... But mostly, those were just reasons I felt I needed in order to go somewhere else. Mostly, I just got bored. At times I worried I would never find my place. That perfect place. Oakland is not the perfect place. But it is the most interesting place I have ever lived, and I can get what I need here. There are hills to explore, parks to lounge in, shows to see, artistic people to meet, work that is varied, things to learn, neighborhoods to wander.

I fell so hard for Oakland that one day years ago, on an flight home, I added to my To Do list: “write a love letter to Oakland”. I had been traveling and everyone I met seemed to cringe whenever I mentioned where I lived. I took it personally, refused to start saying “the Bay Area”, “San Francisco”, or “Berkeley” instead. It wasn’t the same. I wanted people to know about all of the good things Oakland offered, distract them from its reputation.

At the time I was learning about an Oakland photographer named Mose Cohen. Cohen was born in 1884 in New York City and came to the Bay Area to pursue photography in 1906, two months before the earthquake. In 1908 he began working for the Oakland Tribune, eventually opening his own studio on Franklin Street in 1927. He photographed nearly every major event, structure, and famous person to come through the city. His archives are a trove of Oakland history. Cohen was commissioned to make street scenes for the Oakland Downtown Property Owners Association (below) in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. The mission of the Association was to attract capital into downtown Oakland at time of decentralization. Together, the collection shows a specific area of the city shifting over time. Alone, the images show someone’s livelihood, someone’s hopes and dreams: Samuel’s Smoke House, S. and G. Upstairs Clothes Shop, Paradise Cafe, Duckman’s Bargain House, Margaret Burnham's Cottage Candies. Places that existed only in this one time and and in this one space, places that you photograph because you know they won’t be around much longer.

The idiosyncrasies are what make me love Oakland more than anywhere I have lived. They are what makes Oakland endlessly entertaining, particularly for a photographer, and even more so for a photographer who bores easily. I can’t give Oakland all the credit, but it was here that I felt inspired to make photographs again, and often. Here that all the studying and practice and waiting came together into an expression of myself and the world around me that at least sort of makes sense. I have found my home, and while it is not the perfect place, it is my place. Love you Oakland. Explore more Oakland, California…

 

Glenn building, east side of Broadway between 13th and 14th Streets, circa 1935. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

Delger building, northwest corner of 13th Street and Broadway, circa 1930. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

Schutz building, north side of 12th Street between Broadway and Washington Streets, circa 1936. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

City Market building, east side of Washington Street between 12th and 13th Streets, circa 1930. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

Goldman's building, north side of 12th Street between Broadway and Washington Street, circa 1935. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

Jonas building, northwest corner of Broadway and 11th Street, 1932. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

M. K. Blake building, southwest corner of 12th Street and Broadway, circa 1933. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

M. K. Blake building, southwest corner of 12th Street and Broadway, circa 1933. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

East side of Washington Street between 8th and 9th Streets, circa 1925. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

Borland building, southeast corner of 12th Street and Broadway, circa 1940. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

George building, north side of 13th Street between Franklin Street and Broadway, circa 1930. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

Glenn building, east side of Broadway between 13th and 14th Streets, circa 1935. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

Delger building, northwest corner of 13th Street and Broadway, circa 1935. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

 

Schutz building, north side of 12th Street between Broadway and Washington Streets, circa 1937. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

City Market building, east side of Washington Street between 12th and 13th Streets, circa 1940. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

Goldman's building, north side of 12th Street between Broadway and Washington Street, circa 1935. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

Jonas building, northwest corner of Broadway and 11th Street, 1932. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

M. K. Blake Estate Co. building, southwest corner of 12th Street and Broadway, circa 1935. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

M. K. Blake Estate Co. building, southwest corner of 12th Street and Broadway, circa 1935. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

East side of Washington Street between 8th and 9th Streets, circa 1930. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

East side of Washington Street between 8th and 9th Streets, circa 1930. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

Borland building, southeast corner of 12th Street and Broadway, circa 1940. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.

George building, north side of 13th Street between Franklin Street and Broadway, circa 1935. M.L. Cohen Co., photographers, for Downtown Property Owners Association, Inc. Courtesy of Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.