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Urban grit

Challenging the media's unforgiving gaze on urban life with new exhibition “Trust”

This January Loakal Gallery presents Trust, a two-person exhibition on urban society away from the media's often unforgiving lense. Featuring Oakland photographers Brittany Sensabaugh and Rian Dundon, the pair immerse themselves in urban environments near and far from home, with Rian travelling to China and Brittani focussing on the misunderstood corners of Oakland. Nastia Voynovskaya, the show's curator says of the show "We saw a strong connection between the two artist's abilities to connect with their subjects on an emotional level. The title emerged after both artists described to us the processes they go through of getting to know their subjects and hearing their stories. Each image is the product of forming a personal relationship."

Dazed Digital: What are the central themes tackled in the work?

Brittani Sensabaugh: I tackle struggle and unconditional, pure love. We're living in a world full of struggle, consumed by materialistic ideas – with my photography, I try to bring a sense of awareness towards certain emotions & life situations that are overlooked.

DD: Rian, what did you want to showcase about Chinese culture?

Rian Dundon: I was actually more interested in visually exploring relationships with people I feel close to. If something essential about contemporary China can be read from my work that's cool, but it wasn't my intention. 

DD: What was it like forging your way around without any knowledge of the language, did photography help you to communicate with the people you shot?

Rian Dundon: The camera as a pretence for engagement is very helpful for getting to know people, but as my Chinese language skills improved so did my photographs. 

DD: Brittanni, what inspired you to base your work for "Trust" in Oakland?

Brittani SensabaughMy inspiration for my broader, ongoing body of work, 222Oakland roots from the negative perceptions that the media displays about Oakland. My mission for this series was to show the rawness of the culture here and the positive livelihood that most don't get to see. I wanted to capture the stories of individuals that are struggling daily here, but are not consumed by the struggles. The media are so quick to pinpoint all the bad things that happen in our communities, they never fully show or explain the root of why these things are happening and most importantly that with all the bad there is still good.

DD: What do you think setting your work against each other has added to the show?

Brittani Sensabaugh: The main thing it showed was the diversity out there. In each photo from our show you're able to see different lifestyles and perceptions, which is very refreshing because in many ways it brings a sense of unity between two different cultures.

Rian Dundon: I didn't actually know Brittani before Loakal set up the show but her work touches on similar themes of personal intimacy so I think our exhibits compliment each other by displaying different approaches and aesthetics.

DD: Do you each have a favourite photograph from the collection and why?

Brittani Sensabaugh: It would have to be the one of my grandfather. I captured him holding a loaded gun pointed up to my camera. I love this photo because it displays that tough love my grandfather has always shown me so that I was able to be strong and stay focused. He told me he left the bullets inside to put inspirational fear in my heart that would make me shoot the best photo and it definitely worked! 

Rian Dundon: Each image holds meaning for me in its own ways, and all represent equal parts in an ongoing work about ways of seeing the world around me, whether in China or California or elsewhere.

Trust runs from January 3 - February 4 at Loakal Gallery.