As one of the most dangerous cities in America and the most violent in California, I found Oakland’s culture of memorializing death aberrant and worth observing. On average a life is taken in the streets here every few days after which friends, family, and neighbors will erect a shrine over the area of sidewalk where the person was murdered. These are roadside tombstones yet contrarily ephemeral in nature and are usually gone within 10 days.
White Wax is Oakland-based photographer Brandon Tauszik’s ongoing project featuring images of Oakland’s murder shrines. He has set a goal to photograph these shrines for the entire year of 2013, during which he says approximately 130 people will lose their lives via homicide. The shrines Tauszik has documented thus far have all been for gun related deaths. We recently talked to him about about the project.
You explain on your site that the series is updated weekly. How do you find these urban roadside memorials?
“Keeping up with the number of homicides here has been more of a task than I originally bargained for. Every evening I scan Twitter for terms like “oakland homicide” or “oakland shooting” or “oakland187” and I can usually find most there. I also have Google Alerts set up on various terms, so if something is posted online I will see it. The problem is that some of these deaths don’t even get a write-up from local news outlets, so then I have to rely on someone telling me about it or I end up missing it. Shine In Peace has been keeping a pretty updated map.”
Do you try to find out what happened to the people that died at these locations or do you leave that a mystery?
“I have the names, ages, dates, and locations for most of these, but nothing more in most cases. There is usually very little information that can be obtained as these deaths receive little to no press coverage and the Oakland Police have a murder case solve rate hovering around 29% which is the statewide low. That being said, there are a lot of circumstantial similarities among the murders behind the images. The vast majority occur at night, take place on the streets, and involve young males. More often than not the causes seem to stem from small gang squabbles or perceived disrespect.”
What camera are you using for these images?
“I use a Canon 5D mkIII with a 40mm pancake lens and small flash. The gear itself isn’t too important, but when I began the project I wanted to set some aesthetic parameters. I shoot all the images at night, crop them to the same dimensions, use the same exposure, etc. As the project continues to grow, I feel these parameters help create a somewhat hypnotic experience throughout the work.”