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The 2017 Melrose Leadership Kindergarten Portraits

This is the eighth year that I have photographed the Melrose Leadership Academy dual immersion kindergarten students. I have photographed every kindergarten class since MLA introduced the Spanish bilingual program. My daughter was in the first class; my son started two years later. I have also photographed other activities, often as the Historian. (See the MLA Collection of Galleries.)

 (bryan farley)

MLA is an OUSD district school. We have created something special in a place where failure is expected. If I did not have my pictures, I would question whether we ever built the school. Some days, I still wonder if I am hallucinating.

 (bryan farley)

One of my mentors, Jim McNay, recently sent me an article about long-term projects from the Magnum Photo Agency site. The authors provide “Five lessons in developing and sustaining a long-term photographic project.” The first lesson: have a mission statement. Why is this story important?

 (bryan farley)

My goals have changed during the eight years, but my reasons have remained consistent. When I started the project, I was aware that I lived in a neighborhood where white families fled to the Oakland hills for “better schools.” My Oakland neighbors, especially those who looked like me, had been practicing school choice for decades.

We chose segregation.

 (bryan farley)

White people “sorta” loved Oakland’s diversity, especially the part that allowed us to sort ourselves into “good schools.” We studied diversity, but did not practice it. We think we are different than Trump and DeVos, because we vote differently. We segregate similarly. We choose schools similarly.

 (bryan farley)

Obviously, I am not a genius. I thought that I was documenting the future. I hoped that my pictures would change people’s perceptions once the school demonstrated it was successful. I thought that my pictures would provide evidence. I was naive.

Last month I discussed diversity and school segregation with my ten year old son. He had a better explanation than I found in my eight years of pictures.

“We can have a diverse city, but it doesn’t mean we celebrate diversity.”

 (bryan farley)

In a district known for ineffective leadership, MLA has excelled, in part because the district forgot about us. The school has become a community hub. Our teachers are leaders. We have a dynamic after-school program. During the first few years, we wondered if the school would survive. We changed sites after the third year of the bilingual program. Now there is a waiting list as well as a third kindergarten class (and a transitional kindergarten).

 (bryan farley)

If Oakland valued diversity, I imagine that schools like ours would receive awards and recognition regularly. Instead, the same types of school are honored. The same “achievements” are measured.

 (bryan farley)

Each year when I photograph the kindergarten students, I try to create something unique. This year it has rained often, so I photographed the students after a rainy morning. I also encouraged the students to collaborate. It is important that young people participate in creating their stories… their very important stories. We discuss light and color. Students take pictures of me. We discuss how pictures tell stories and influence people.

 (bryan farley)

This might be my last year taking pictures at the school. The images may stand as anthropological evidence more than advocacy. Future researchers will discover a time when the impossible was created. (2017 MLA Kindergarten Photos)

For more thoughts, visit my other site at www.morethankids.com

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Hot Couture 2017 – The Beautiful Ones

Netta Brielle sings a tribute to Prince at the 2017 Hot Couture fashion show. (bryan farley)

Last month I photographed the Hot Couture fashion show at Oakland’s Crucible. The 2017 Hot Couture fashion show was inspired by the artist Prince and called “The Beautiful One’s.”

 (bryan farley)

This is the fourth consecutive Hot Couture that I have photographed and I tried to be inspired by Prince. I created an 84 image photo gallery. Prince released the album and movie Purple Rain in 1984. “The Beautiful Ones” is a song on Purple Rain.

 (bryan farley)

While “The Beautiful Ones” is not my favorite Prince song, it probably captures my feelings about him. The song captures the contradictions. He was an artist who was passionate. (“You were so hard to find”) He was a passionate artist who yearned to “paint the perfect picture.” He was like all the beautiful ones, “You always seem to lose.” We lost him too early.

 (bryan farley)

When Prince died, I lost something. One year ago today, Prince performed in Oakland. I tried to meet and photograph Prince many times, but it never happened, not last year nor the previous years. I always thought that I would have time.

 (bryan farley)

I do not usually care if I meet famous people, but Prince was different. We both had epilepsy. There are so many people who still live in the shadows, I thought that we could make a difference or at least a connection. For those of us who have epilepsy, we speak a different language when we are together. We paint a different picture, and it’s usually purple.

 (bryan farley)

Even though Prince was enigmatic, he inspired people by maintaining his personal integrity. He was able to keep his artistic vision and an income. Most people, and not just artists, must sacrifice to survive. (bryan farley)

The tension between creative and commercial success is not new. I have been re-reading the book “Bauhaus, Crucible of Modernism” by Elaine Hochman and I wonder if The Crucible in Oakland could become a present day Bauhaus. The Bauhaus transformed art and design. The Bauhaus was also forced to close by the government.

 (bryan farley)

Can The Crucible influence how the city looks and works? How will The Crucible survive? Will The Crucible rely on the generosity of others or will it shift, as the Bauhaus tried a few years after opening, to “make art financially answerable without compromising it?”

 (bryan farley)

When The Nazis closed the Bauhaus in 1933, the school had not learned how to make money and good art. However, in the school’s fourteen years, the school showed the world a new way to approach art education. The Crucible continues the tradition with many of the same questions.

 (bryan farley)

We do not live in 1933 Germany, but we still have political and economic challenges. The 2017 Hot Couture fashion show was successful at helping us look past the struggles of 2017. The artists and audience seemed more mindful and beautiful. Prince would have enjoyed all the beautiful ones, even the ones you always seem to lose.

Songs for California

“I’m out to sing the songs that will prove to you that this is your world, no matter what color, what size you are, or how you were built.” Woody Guthrie

 (bryan farley)

Yesterday I drove to the Central Valley to photograph the Fresno County Blossom Trail. I wanted to reconnect with the part of myself that knows Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” and “Tom Joad.”

 (bryan farley)

I have traveled home several times during the recent drought years to photograph the blossoms. The farmers found water, but each year life felt more desperate.

 (bryan farley)

There is a beauty about the valley. Many people never experience it. Many people never experience the struggle either; they only read about it from John Steinbeck.

 (bryan farley)

People have migrated to California for more than one hundred years searching for a better life. In the 1930’s, Okies searched for work in the fields of the Central Valley. In the following decades, people from other parts of the world have followed. California has not been known as a welcoming place. It’s been hard. Often, it’s been hard to find hard work.

 (bryan farley)

Woody Guthrie was one of the Okies who arrived in California. He wrote many folks songs. He sang about life in California.

 (bryan farley)

On this day in 1940, Woody wrote, “This Land is Your Land.” It was a protest song. He had grown tired of hearing “God Bless America.” He felt that the song had not been written for people like him. Originally, he titled his song “God Bless America for me.”

If my pictures could sing, I would want the lyrics to say something similar. God bless America for people like me too… and remind me to see the layers of beauty in the fields and reflections. (See the gallery from my recent trip here. I included 66 pictures – the number of the route used by many of the Okies who once migrated to California.)