Two local lads — Matt Werner, a Cal English grad who now works at Google, and Joe Sciarrillo who is studying for his masters at Cal — have published a book that embraces many of the Bay Area’s “big” moments of the past five years, be it the Occupy protests or the Giants winning the World Series. A smattering of those events took place in Berkeley, as the photos here show. We caught up with co-author Matt Werner to find out more about ‘Bay Area Underground.’
What is Bay Area Underground about?
Bay Area Underground is a photobook featuring candid images of life in the San Francisco Bay Area from 2008-2012. The photos invite readers to revisit key moments that have defined living in the Bay Area during the Great Recession. The book captures the major social movements and cultural events in the Bay Area over the last five years from the Giants winning the World Series to the Bay to Breakers. It’s also one of the first books to cover Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco, as well as the Oscar Grant protests in Oakland.
Tell us about the authors.
Joe Sciarrillo works as a paralegal/case manager for immigrant rights at the African Advocacy Network, a nonprofit he co-founded in San Francisco’s Mission District. He is currently studying in UC Berkeley’s Masters of Social Work program. Matt Werner graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in English in 2007, and currently works at Google as a technical writer.
What compelled you two to put together Bay Area Underground?
We were inspired to publish this book because over the past few years, Joe and I would go to events such as protests or art events with thousands of attendees. Reading the press the next day, we would often find no coverage of the event, or the media would focus on the five minutes of violence by a small group of people in what was otherwise a peaceful mass protest. I started writing my own journalistic accounts of what I saw at these various events, and Joe was on the ground photographing. We’d then collaborate to publish a journalistic account on local news sites.
Joe and I reviewed the thousands of photos we took from 2008-2012, and we chose the top 130 photos united by five themes. We hope our photographs shed a new perspective on life in the Bay Area, and share movements that perhaps people didn’t realize were happening in their own neighborhood. We published this book to share the events we’ve witnessed with a wider audience.
Is it your first book?
It’s my third book, and Joe Sciarrillo’s first. I published my first book, Papers for the Suppression of Reality, in 2011. It’s a collection of short stories inspired by Jorge Luis Borges, which I wrote as an undergrad at Cal. And I published Oakland in Popular Memory in 2012 as a collection of interviews with artists and musicians innovating in Oakland today. I printed my first two books on 100% cotton archival-quality paper at my cousin’s print shop in Sacramento. And I hand-bound them at my uncle’s business, Saddle Point Systems, on 9th Street in Berkeley. This latest photobook is printed and bound by Photoworks in San Francisco.
How do you define ‘underground’?
We define “underground” similar to how “underground hip-hop” is defined: existing outside of the mainstream. If something’s underground, it means that it’s under-reported, and that Joe and I as citizen journalists were often the only people who covered these various events that weren’t deemed “newsworthy” by the Bay Area’s media outlets. These events included the East Bay Bike Party, the early days of Oakland’s Art Murmur, and many immigrant rights protests throughout the Bay Area.
We realize that the term “underground” carries negative connotations, but we use it to mean issues that are swept under the rug, in a reference to Edward Said’s definition of the intellectual in his 1993 Reith Lectures. Edward Said says that it’s the intellectual’s “raison d’être to represent all those people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug.” We captured these events, like the protests after the shooting of unarmed Oscar Grant by a BART police officer, to make sure they’re not forgotten.
Where are you from? Are you Berkeley natives?
I was born in Oakland, and I grew up throughout the Bay Area: Alameda, Berkeley, and Palo Alto. I lived in Berkeley during high school and college. It was an interesting experience being both “town and gown” in Berkeley. For example, in high school, I often played basketball in People’s Park and hung out with friends there on weekends. But in college, many of my Cal classmates were afraid to even enter People’s Park. Students coming from Orange County to Berkeley, viewed the city as a dangerous place, filled with mysterious subcultures, homeless, and hippies. But having gone to beatboxing extravaganzas at Ashkenaz and poetry slams at The Starry Plough and La Peña, as well as volunteering with the homeless and interacting with Berkeley’s many “eccentrics” early in high school, I was exposed to a lot in Berkeley which influenced my writing.
Joe is from Novato in Marin County, and we were in the same class at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco. We ran cross country and track together in high school. After Joe graduated from Georgetown, he lived in Berkeley and San Francisco’s Mission District.
Why did you choose to cover many topics in Bay Area Underground, and not just stick with typical Bay Area photobook subjects of the Golden Gate Bridge or Pier 39? Or why didn’t you go to the other extreme, and only include protests and social movements?
We wanted to capture the range of what it was like living in the Bay Area during President Obama’s first term in office. It’s hard to articulate the asymmetries and multiple worlds coexisting in the Bay Area, and unfortunately, it oftens comes down to clashes, like Occupy, or the shooting of Oscar Grant, when these asymmetries are revealed to the general public. When these shocking events happen, they call us to step back and question our values, and ask, “How could such a thing happen in one of the most progressive and diverse regions on the planet?”
And what’s interesting is that many of the social movements and cultural events we covered complemented each other—they didn’t live in isolation. For example, some photos taken at Oakland’s First Friday Art Murmur look as if they were taken at Occupy Oakland protests. It’s still too early to determine the Occupy movement’s legacy in the East Bay, but since the movement started in 2011, several new art galleries have opened up near City Hall in downtown Oakland.
At an event like Art Murmur, hip-hop artists come into contact with conceptual artists, urban farmers, activists, UC Berkeley students, and cycling advocates. At these cultural events, Bay Area thought leaders from a cornucopia of subcultures gather to present their work, exchange ideas, and inspire each other. We set out to capture the indefatigable democratic spirit in the Bay Area, where ideas are forged that — for better or worse — go on to power the world. Joe and I were privileged as photojournalists to document what we saw.
The book is Bay Area Underground: Photos of Protests and Social Movements, 2008-2012 (Thought Publishing/January 2013 /$25.00).
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