The Oakland Newports project began in 2013 as means of mapping my presence in what often felt like a landscape uninterested in preserving it’s present state, a landscape motivated only by what lies ahead, hurtling toward what will almost assuredly be a gentrified future, discarding a community of have-nots in it’s wake.
I had been noticing empty packs of Newports all over the streets in my East Oakland neighborhood, and was fascinated by the packaging -particularly, its visual loudness amidst the grey Bay Area landscape with it’s evergreen print being eroded by the grit of the pavement. With each pack observed, I always wondered “how did this get here? who did this?" It didn’t matter, the empty pack is what remains.
Initially, I acted as an observer, an outsider really, chronicling my finds like as if I were a garbage anthropologist. I photographed my first pack outside of the home of a person I had an ill-fated date with. As I exited through their front door into their yard, they chucked an empty pack of ‘ports out their bedroom window, falling beside me in the paved yard as if to say 'you should really just start this project already'. Exhibit A was born, and I must of photographed a dozen more packs on my bike ride home - closely paying attention to the shapes and form each discarded pack took on.
As the archive grew, I began to find myself acting as both curator and storyteller. Each discarded pack carries a disjointed history of how it came to it’s demise in the gutter, and I had assumed the responsibility as documentarian to honor that history and re-tell the parts of the story that remained via this artifact, a discarded and often mangled pack of Newports.
I’ve had plenty of critique on this project - people have interpreted this archive in more ways than I ever could have imagined, but my intent never changed - this is just a map, a performance in cartography mitigated not through my presence, but instead through garbage and form.
I am not dismissing all of the heft of socioeconomic history that comes with Newport cigarettes, this is a gentle protest that acknowledges all of the evil that big tobacco imparts and goes beyond to comment on the effects not just on cultures, but on the impact within environmental landscapes as well.
In 2016, I moved away from Oakland because I was offered affordable artist housing in Los Angles, but I have never been able to fully break up with or end this project because of the community it inspired and how supportive people are of the project. I've awkwardly posted intermittent finds when I'm back in the Bay for work (Yes, I still work in San Francisco...technically), but because I'm not there as much, I'm less consumed with maintaining the archive I once so lovingly assembled.
After much thought of how this project can keep growing, I've decided to pass the microphone to the incredible artists and documentarians still living in Oakland. Starting in January, Oakland's finest will be taking over this feed and passing the torch from one artist to the next every month.
First up is @spacechiclet, second up is whoever they decide is worthy.
Thanks for your years of support, you mean the world to me.