Defining Purpose

What are you here for?

Status Update is a series of multi-platform exhibitions curated and produced by Catchlight around specific social issues. The first edition looks at visualizations of inequality and resilience in our own San Francisco Bay Area.

One of four parts. Read the intro essay Bay Centric and view Vol 1: Home and Vol 3: Opportunity.


These days it seems like everyone has a crusade to get behind. Hyper-connected, convenient alignment with the movements of our choice can be empowering, but the ease of virtual affiliation can also foster detachment from the immediacy of here and now. Sometimes it seems like we are actually drifting further apart while giving lip service (click service?) to whichever causes best mesh with our personal/spiritual/political self-image. But what are we missing when we disengage from real-life participation?
 That’s where photography comes in, and the work of some highly committed artists forging deep connections with the people and places they document. These storytellers work with purpose on projects that probe the political and personal issues of our day. And they use images — both moving and still — to propel the voices of local men and women who might otherwise remain unheard. Photographs have the uncanny ability to foster connectivity and cultivate identification between makers and subjects, an audience and the ideas at play. Images can be full of meaning, but if that meaning is to manifest as consciousness, the purpose of the photographer becomes of central concern. When Pendarvis Harshaw began his project OG Told Me, he realized he had to take ownership of his position in the community. “I had this opportunity to speak to the fourteen-year-olds and also to the sixty-eight-year-olds. I became a bridge.” Now that’s purpose.
 The artists collected here all exhibit a true sense of intention in their work. As contributors to Status Update Bay Area, each have committed themselves to telling nuanced and complicated stories about people living in the orbit of San Francisco and Silicon Valley. And they have succeeded in explicating those stories for a wider audience. Please take a moment to sit with these projects, absorb their meaning, render awareness and proceed with purpose.
— Catchlight editors, Berkeley, February 2016


© Lily Chen, Occupy Bay Area

A recent transplant from China, photographer-filmmaker Lily Chen exemplifies the documentarian’s impulse to witness with Occupy Bay Area. Chen’s images of uprising in Oakland and San Francisco are a sly subversion of the established protest photo genre — she is interested in actors, not message — and her focus resonates as one of reverence for the bravery, and fragility, of ordinary citizens speaking truth to power.

“If I’m doing a documentary project, I have to be emotionally involved. No matter if it’s for a political reason or a personal reason.” — Lily Chen


© Paccarik Orue, Bayview Times

Paccarik Orue approaches his subjects with the respect of someone who can relate. An immigrant to this country, the Peruvian-born photographer brings us images from two of the San Francisco Bay’s most marginalized communities: Bayview-Hunters Point and the the city of Richmond. Orue comes from a long tradition of photographers extracting poetic images from the periphery. But his predilection for finding the hidden beauty of these places is only one facet of his deeply personal commitment to the individuals he encounters there.

“I’m an immigrant. I lived in this country undocumented for thirteen years and when I make photographic work, I’m interested in creating images that I can relate to because of my background.”
Paccarik Orue


© Pendarvis Harshaw, OG Told Me

Conceived as a Tumblr page, OG Told Me is a series of interviews with, and photographs of, older African American men whom Pendarvis Harshaw encountered in public spaces. Harshaw’s acknowledgement of these men is in itself a radical act (how often do we actually listen to our elders?) but his sensitivity to the nuances of their individual stories sets OG Told Me apart as a powerful piece of oral history and photographic documentary.

“I’ve learned more than I can teach.”
Pendarvis Harshaw


© Brandon Tauszik, Tapered Throne

Documentary artist Brandon Tauszik uses GIF animations to chronicle the intimate confines and characters of a Bay Area cultural sanctuary in Tapered Throne, his meditative ode to Oakland’s black barbershops. The project, which emerges both as witness to a critical site of African American culture and as a commentary on the ways real life images are made and consumed online, is a must see for anyone interested in the intersection of social documentary, digital media and new modes of visual storytelling.

“This is one of the necessities that’s hands on, you can’t get no haircut on the Internet. Here we call people by name.”
Dave, All About Business barber shop

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Based in Berkeley, Calif., Catchlight helps committed photographers and visual storytellers find their voice and master ways to help you hear it. We support the creation of innovative new documentary work, and produce unique ancillary material toward an enhanced viewer experience. Catchlight partners with media organizations, shares stories through traditional and contemporary platforms and organizes live and virtual events connecting visual storytellers to their audiences for more intimate and meaningful exchanges.

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