Photographing Oakland, One Portrait at a Time

10 min
Caleb, Paty Castaneda and Gabriela Diaz as photographed by Lara Kaur at her Community Portrait Pop-Up.  (Lara Kaur)

Not long ago, one of Lara Kaur’s hard-drives was destroyed and she lost years of her digital photo work. To recover the data, she asked her community for support and with their donations she was able to more than cover her costs. As a token of appreciation, she started the Community Portrait Pop-Up where she takes high-quality portrait photographs for free.

The event has grown since it first started in early 2019 and occurs monthly, when the weather permits. Now it’s a gathering place for Oakland movers and shakers, where you can run into a gang of friends and meet artists, entrepreneurs and families. You can buy colorful jewelry, vegan tacos and dance to live DJ sets. But at the center of the event, it’s still all about the portraits — and when it’s your turn, people will cheer for you as you sit in front of Kaur’s lens.

Lara Kaur sips tea at home.
Lara Kaur sips tea at home. (Pendarvis Harshaw/ KQED)

These simple portraits go a long way. The pics are foundational for entrepreneurs as they start their businesses, and Kaur’s photographs of families help create important mementos for those who have a hard time finding funds for traditional portraits.

After attending one of Lara’s events, I met with her at her house in West Oakland and we discussed the power of photography and the importance of community over a couple of mugs of Chai. As we finished our drinks, I asked her about her favorite photograph: she showed me an image from her grandparents’ wedding in Punjab. After seeing Lara’s work for some time, all it took was one image to understand why photography is her tool: these images preserve culture and help to build community.

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