The action and reaction on privileged and deprivileged spaces along San Pablo Ave by Gabriel Goncalves-Santana

The main goal of my work is to use photography to capture tensions and conflicts in different spaces caused by socioeconomic relationships under the framework of capitalism. From dense socially unequal urbanized areas through gentrified neighborhoods to suburbs and industrial towns, the main ingredient of my photos is to show that spaces are privileged or deprivileged and shaped by a racialized system that racializes spaces.

If life is a spectacle run by colonialist/capitalist forces and composed of a few screenwriters and many actors, San Pablo Avenue certainly is a chief stage for understanding the San Francisco Bay Area’s sociospatial relationships. San Pablo Avenue, previously named San Pablo Road, is an old route established in the colonial period by the Spanish as a Camino Real until Mexico’s independence from Spain. Later, after the U.S. invasion of Alta California, the road was re-signified to become one of the nation’s first transcontinental roads. Before the construction of the Eastshore Highway, San Pablo Avenue was the main north-south route in the East Bay.

From the colonialism stages rooted in caste systems, dispossession, slavery, and genocide of native indigenous, through diaspora, the rise of nation-states and its border conflicts, to a modern globalized capitalist system rooted in fetishism, accumulation and labor exploration, the San Pablo Avenue takes you to a journey in the geographical history that is recorded along marks and scars in the landscape, but that is also actively present in the many realities of those connected to their places.

Influenced by Marxist Geographers like David Harvey and Andy Merrifield, I tried to photograph elements representing my spatial analysis in terms of accumulation, commoditization, and class struggle. As in macroscales, I believe these three significant themes actively shape urban landscapes and influence the lives of those surrounding it, as an example of myself, an independent, working-class immigrant student, and those at San Pablo Avenue. To pursue my motivation in photographing the social inequalities and spatial contradictions, I relied
on the spatial metaphor proposed by Marx of base and superstructure and the idea of a built environment that conceives capital and social reproduction.
The base comprises the means of production (the instruments and materials used for production) and the labor. The base exists as the main gear of a system rooted in land accumulation, domination of the means of production, and the exploration of the labor force to produce surplus value. These relations of production are structured and divided by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexuality. The photos are mainly of Latino immigrant labor, but I also included a pair of photographs from local business owners along San Pablo Avenue to represent the resistance and resilience of those belonging to their neighborhoods.

The superstructure is the group of all non-economic institutions that are part of the public-private civil society. That means any organization that makes up the State, like the legal system, the military force, educational, political, and religious institutions. These institutions and organizations dialogue with the base structures, providing structural elements that work towards reproducing the elements of the base and therefore becoming agents that shape these spaces. As the built environment is allowing the reproduction of capitalism through the exploration of the labor, at the same time, the commoditization of sociospatial features such as housing, transportation, and access to services has allowed for new forms of accumulation and class struggle.

During our walks, I aimed to photograph how spaces translate the class struggles in the many different forms of accumulation. Still, I also aimed to capture the responses and counteractions of the oppressed communities that live, resist, persist, and reshape their spaces in many forms of social and cultural activism. As a recent transfer student living in the Bay Area for the first time, the visual geography class helped me better know and understand the spaces surrounding my academic and personal life and to start building a sense of place and community for myself.

Learning photography techniques and how to use a camera was very helpful in improving and clarifying my critical thinking regarding urban environments. A fascinating aspect of my work is present in the ability that I acquired to read and capture the same spaces through different scales and lenses. From macroscales to microscales, I’m capturing San Pablo Avenue’s specificities and singularities that uniquely compose its landscapes and are part of a collective totality. Within this practicable shift between globalized and local scales, I hope my work dialogues with how each individual, group, or community experience and reshape the space based on their senses of belonging and connection to the land, but that it still reinforces a specific necessity of a radical transformation of meanings and realities against the capitalist mode of


On San Pablo Ave is an archive of the work that students in GEOG 189: Visual Geography created in the Spring 2023 semester, the very first iteration of the course. 

The goal of the course is to use photography and walking as methodologies for understanding the places we move through and the people we encounter everyday.

Each week of the semester we, as a class, walked a portion of the 23-mile stretch of San Pablo Avenue, starting in downtown Oakland and ending in Rodeo, California. 

Students photographed along the street as we walked but also stopped in businesses, chatted up individuals we met along the way, and generally followed where their own interests took them. 

As a result, each student recorded a very different perspective of San Pablo Avenue. They narrowed their work down to 20+ photographs and sequenced them to “say” something about the built environment and the human experience along this vital stretch of the East Bay. 

Our main inspiration for this project was the work of photographer Janet Delaney, particularly her vital documentation of the SOMA neighborhood in San Francisco in the late-1970s and early-80s.

Janet was gracious enough to visit our class, talk about her work and the SOMA project, and show us some student projects she led while a faculty member in Visual Studies at UC Berkeley. 

This course was created and taught by Lecturer Joel Wanek with assistance from april graham-jackson, PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at UC Berkeley.  

Thanks to Jovan Scott Lewis, Eron Budi, Ambrosia Shapiro, Josh Mandel, and Seth Lunine for their assistance and support!