A Living Archive by William Fei

San Pablo Avenue is an artery of the East Bay, a historic thoroughfare stretching 23 miles through small towns, bustling cities, and everything in between. Moreover, it serves as a living archive of the region's cultural richness, uniting the earliest Mexican miners who gave the street its name with Black, Middle Eastern, Chinese, and countless other communities that continue to shape its character today.

Traversing San Pablo Avenue, my goal was not to create a complete documentation of the street. Rather, I set out to capture moments of resilience, beauty, and change in the everyday. From multicultural markets to murals to portraits of people who've left an impact on me forever, this journey was undoubtedly extraordinary — yet still ordinary enough that I believe anyone may have similar encounters if they make the same trip.

Through my lens, I hope to provide a glimpse into what makes this street so special. This is my archive and celebration, my tribute to the rich history and ever-evolving future of San Pablo Avenue.


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!