archived from 2002 photolab gallery
Ken Burson: Virtually Real Oakland
The Magic, The Diversity, and the Potholes
Digitally Enhanced Images
August 10 through September 21, 2002 Photolab Gallery Berkeley California

Imagine Oakland old and new. If you live here, you see its multiple faces all the time. If change is true of any town, it's the truth of Oakland. There is an Old Town. And New Town would have to be Civic Center, with its sculpture, renovated city hall, oak tree plaza and auto mall.

Oakland is striving-and has been for years-to fill the shoes of a world class city. Short on finances, Oakland is long on ambition. Energized by a new dynamic duo of city manager and mayor, Oakland is pulling out the stops to attract development and confront the obstacles that have stymied the realization of its vision. So it would seem that Oakland is on its way to...something.

What is it right now? What are we in this hopeful state of anticipation? This photographic project attempts to capture the spirit that is Oakland now: the sparkling beauty of Lake Merritt, the energy and pride of our ethnic diversity, even the excitement of economic struggles for success that don't blur our cultural qualities. 

Oakland is culture: fusing a memorable past with a roller coaster present pressing on toward a gung-ho future. Oakland is becoming.

A Pocket Biography of the Artist

In 1947, Ken Burson emerged at Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, California.  The last of three brothers, he learned early on the meaning of “pecking order”.  As part of a working class family, he also learned the importance of frugality, hard work, practicality, and organized labor.  His early experiences with unorthodox dinners and hand-me-down clothes continue to color his politics and personal decisions.

Growing up, Ken always wanted to be a photographer.  Wisely, adults advised otherwise.  Ken married, had kids, got a real job, and fortunately bought a Canon AE-1.  His kids and relatives learned patience as Ken slowly learned his camera.

Ken chose the University of California, Santa Cruz for his upper division work, a major in psychology.  The school fit with his values of nonconformity, high intellectual expectations, peacefulness, and extreme beauty.  He completed a master’s degree in psychology at San Jose State University, a convenient school.

Finally came the day when Ken met his new love—Photoshop.  Required by the demanding zealot Photoshop teacher to do something more than make images of himself look deformed by using Photoshop tricks, Ken worked into the wee hours playing with every Photoshop tool he could find.

What he found was liberation.  Freedom from lens literalness.  Opportunities to alter relationships.  Ways to communicate that he couldn’t with just his trusty Canon (now an Elan IIe).

His first and continuing project has been how he sees and feels about Oakland.  Oakland’s vividness, its strong personality, lends itself to the strong-armed interpretations that Ken Burson sometimes makes.  Oakland evokes strong feelings.  Ken Burson strives to capture and express them.

Ken finds inspiration in several photographers.  Those who have moved him include Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Debbie Hill, Annie Leibovitz, and Bill Owens.  They share a concern with the human condition, compelling visions, and stories that underlie the image.

Remaining close to his roots, Ken lives in Oakland.

Contact Ken Burson

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