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Pictures of a City: Judging the Visit Oakland Photo Contest (Community Voices)

This year's Grand Prize Winner - Sailing on the Bay by Matt Beardsley

This year's Grand Prize Winner - Sailing on the Bay by Matt Beardsley

What does Oakland look like ... visually?

And what picture of Oakland would most make people want to visit?

Yours truly recently had a chance to consider these questions, when the Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau asked me to be a judge for their annual “Visit Oakland” photo contest.

Now in its fifth year, the contest spotlights photographs, which highlight the city as a visitor destination and are used in OCVB’s marketing materials. The judging involved viewing 300 photos submitted and whittling down the list to a Top 10, ranked from 10 to one, along with 15 honorable mentions (top prize was $1,000).

Other judges included members of the OCVB board, a staffer at Chabot Science Center and the publisher of Oakland magazine. I may have been the only actual photographer on the jurist panel.

Photographers are trained to think visually, and I tend to place the aesthetic and technical merits of an image over purely commercial value. As a panel judge, however, I tried to balance those considerations.

I searched for photos with a sense of iconicism and uniqueness; I also looked for shots which specifically screamed “this is Oakland and nowhere else, baby.” There were, however, plenty of shots which could have been taken anywhere, which did kind of make me want to visit those locations, if only to say, “Ha! Now I know where that is!”

My top pick, a 360-degree panoramic landscape by nature and landscape shooter Steven Dos Remedios - who has a gallery show at the Rockridge Cafe, which opened June 23 - was an amazingly brilliant, highly technical shot that spoke to my inner photographer. Beautiful and gallery-ready though it was, as it turned out, that shot didn’t even receive an honorable mention.

The wealth of contest entries was a visual treasure trove.

There were stunningly beautiful nature scenes from Sibley regional park and other flora-heavy locations; eye-opening aerial views taken from high altitude; sunset skyline shots; attractions ranging from spinning Ferris wheels at the Alameda County Fair to food trucks at the Eat Real Festival; recognizable landmarks from Fenton’s Creamery to the Coliseum to the Paramount and Fox marquees; and a whole lot of what’s known as “food porn”: creamy mac-and-cheese from Homeroom, crispy Tamarindo tacos, mouth-watering desserts from PieTISSERIE and other shops and a thirst-quenching, frothy brew from the Trappist. Surprisingly, there were no shots of the Black Hole, the Lake Merritt gondola or the Art Murmur.

Matt Beardsley’s photo of a sailboat cruising on the bay, with the iconic loading cranes of the Port of Oakland in the background, took home the Grand Prize. Second prize was a tie between a romantic shot of a couple strolling on a nature path next to a lake, by Robin Jolin, and a tree, which resembled a real-life representation of the city Of Oakland’s Oak tree logo, by Aubrey McClellan. There was a three way-tie for third prize as well (which reflects the quality of submissions), between Jolin's sweet portrait of a smiling woman holding a pie, Josh Winzeler's magnificent city skyline, and Conrad Tse's urban landscape pic of Old Oakland at night.

In addition to Dos Remedios’ panorama, there were plenty of great shots that didn’t make the final cut: a haunting statue, several architectural shots of the Church of Christ the Light from various angles, the aforementioned aerial views. But there were also some shots I was glad to see listed as honorable mentions: Stephen Woo’s jogger with a pleased yet intent expression running alongside the Lake Merritt path; (former OL staffer) Emilie Raguso’s capture of the Oakland Museum interior, which balanced light and shadow expertly; James Knox’ picture of a jazz trumpeter at Yoshi's, so real you could practically hear the fingered notes; Dave Bryan’s colorful taco truck (not the most technical shot by any means, but one which said “Oakland” loud and clear); and Clive Cheng’s beautiful juxtaposition of two entangled acrobats at Trapeze Arts.

It was agonizing selecting just 25 of the pics for consideration, especially since there weren’t separate category winners – which would have made selection easier, though food porn fiends might surely have objected. But after going through the process, I had an urge to grab my camera and start collecting pics to be entered in next year’s contest, which I plan to enter.

To see this year’s winners, check out

Eric K. Arnold is an Oakland Local Contributing Editor, photojournalist, and longtime Bay Area scribe who has written extensively about art, music, culture, film, politics, media policy, social justice, food justice, environmental health, activist movements, local government, economic development, and just about every other topic which interests him. Contact him at


Hi Eric,

Nice article. I'm glad to see the competition getting it's much needed exposure. However, I am curious as to why there was no mention of the other 3rd prize winners. You mentioned that there was a tie for second, but not a tie for third. Were these other shots not worthy of recognition in your article?


josh, there was only one third place winner. you can view all the winning photos here.

I'm sorry Eric, but, you are incorrect. If you look more closely you will see that there was a three way tie for 3rd prize. 

Pie TISSIRIE by Robin Jolin

Old Oakland at night by Conrad Tse

City Skyline at Sunset by Josh Winzeler

As an artist yourself I'm sure you can understand the importance of giving credit where credit is due.

My bad, Josh, you're right! i don't know why i didn't see that at first. I've updated the text accordingly--and added your photo to the sidebar on the right, there, so people can see it. great shot, btw.

Eric, thank you! I whole heartedly appreciate your revision. I am a lifelong Oaklander and was ecstatic when I found out I had placed in this years competition among all the other amazing submissions. A tear came to my eye in fact. I love Oakland, and can't promote the wholesomeness our city has to offer enough. We get a bad rap here in Oakland, and sites like this and OCVB will hopefully help change the perspective of the rest of the Nation, and keep our local communities thriving. I have read only a few of your articles, but thank you for putting us on the map for something good!

Thanks for the shout out on my photo of trumpeter Khalil Shaheed. I was honored to be a winner in this contest. All the best!