Today let me introduce you to Berkeley, California. You may or may not have heard of the small city, but the few of you who have will recognize it as the home of the hippies. And UC Berkeley. Well, you pretty much have 95% of it down, really.
Berkeley, a city across a bridge from the famed hills of San Francisco, is a city of young, liberal, food-loving students and older folks alike. Home to UC Berkeley and famed restaurants like Chez Panisse, the atmosphere is reminiscent of the Summer of Love in SF of 1967 when the scene was truly abound with protestors, students, and protesting students. It’s amazing to see the landmarks in the campus of the university or around the city leading into Oakland, as they have preserved most of the bulidings as is from the era—for better or worse.
But today, through the lens of my Leica M6 and Olympus OM-D, the scene is much darker. Not just literally, but weighed down from the financial burden of the Californian bankruptcy, layoffs are always around the corner. Students are struggling with loans they can’t pay off, or even dropping out from the stress. Entrepreneur students and aspiring engineers, biochemists, social activists still dream but even those who make it to graduation are faced with the reality of the damp job market.
Commentary: As a recent graduate myself I can attest to the difficulty of the situation: I applied to 27 different companies with a 3.7+ GPA and a flowing list of internships and a handy toolbox of relevant skill sets. Even with this strategic, calculated approach to hiring, I only heard back from 2, one of which where I work now. This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy my job, I cherish it; instead I aim to illustrate the reality that there is a growing job-skills gap and simply no appetite for those who fall in between.
But I digress. The scene is very much alive, I assure you, and Saturday mornings still correlate with lines that stretch out into the block of famous cafés and cuisines enjoyed by both Berkeleyans and San Franciscans alike. Children still roll down the fields and hills, and students smile in return. The economy hits the region hard, the zaniness of the citizens and students strike harder.
The irony of the situation makes me appreciate the beauty of such an institution (UC Berkeley) while inspiring me to try harder as a photographer to capture the fragile emotions of these people, while mirroring the almost schizophrenic duality of the Berkeley character.
If you are ever around, I strongly urge you to visit. You will be pleasantly surprised, I promise.
Anyone out there from Berkeley? For those who haven’t, do these photos make you want to visit?