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“My whole take on the Telegraph life is, basically, my life is very simple: I sit around all day and I spare change for hours for alcohol which I use to compensate for the fact that I live on the streets everyday.” Coconut, then a 16 year-old street kid (transcribed from an audio interview).
Since the late 1960’s, Telegraph Ave – a four block commercial strip on the south side of the University of California in Berkeley, CA – has been a magnet for street kids, travelers, and runaways like Coconut. Arriving for several days, weeks, or sometimes years, the young transients sleep on the street, in various shelters scattered across the city, or secretly in the numerous squat houses scattered on the south side of Berkeley. They come for a multitude of reasons: broken homes, a defunct foster care system, or simply a desire to travel and be disengaged from society.
“Telegraph is a family, it is home” Coconut confided, “I love this place.” The portraits presented here are part of a larger and evolving project on the young transient population in Berkeley mixing studio with street shots. As a student at Berkeley, I was always dismayed at how the transients were ignored and dehumanized by others.
My rationale for the studio shots were to strip the subjects from their environment with the aim of enabling the viewer to empathize with the subjects first and foremost as human beings. All of the subjects came into my makeshift studio exactly as they were on Telegraph. The street shots – currently a work in progress – in turn provides the context. In the course of working on this project, I at times fully immersed myself on Telegraph; I have slept on the street, under bridge overpasses, spent time in squat houses, and even hitchhiked with a group of young travelers with nothing but the clothes on my back. I have been exceptionally fortunate to have been given a glimpse of their reality. In many ways, these photographs – the subject matter, the aesthetic, the minimal lighting, etc., are also testament to my state of mind at that period in time; I was overcome with a lack of direction, was deeply depressed, and felt “unchained from the sun” after leaving graduate school to pursue photography. As such, in an admittedly exceptionally limited way, I related with my subjects. The decision to leave a PhD program to pursue photography was improbable and professionally suicidal as I had just purchased my first camera only a year prior. These photos were taken within a month of leaving academia and, concomitantly, less than a year of taking my first photograph.
Pete Pin was born in a Red Cross refugee camp in 1982 following the Cambodian genocide and immigrated, along with his family, as a refugee to Northern California in the mid 1980’s. He attended inner-city high school in Long Beach, CA and dropped out as a junior to work full-time. With the generous emotional and financial support from patrons at his place of employment, he was encouraged to return to academics and received his BA in Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley, graduating magna cum laude with high departmental honors and was the recipient of the Outstanding Honors Thesis Award by his department. In the summer of 2008, months before embarking on an eight year PhD program in the social sciences at Berkeley, Pete purchased his first camera with the initial intent of pursuing photography as a hobby. Within a year of graduate school, he abandoned his PhD program to focus on photography full-time. The Ave is his first sustained project. He has received no formal artistic or photography training and is entirely self-taught. Pete currently resides in San Francisco, CA.