by Minister of Information JR Valrey
Some people do not celebrate Valentine’s Day, nonetheless it is still important to celebrate Black love, sensuality, sexuality and our relationships with our bodies. The legendary Oakland photographer and dancer Traci Bartlow is hosting an exclusive one night viewing of “My Life in Nudes,” which is an archive of nude or partially nude photos from photo shoots spanning three decades.
Known for her work with the Punany Poets and having been on HBO’s Real Sex filmed in Oakland in 1999, Traci has been a trailblazer in many different genres of art and entrepreneurship. This Friday, Traci will be opening up the gallery in B-Love’s Guest House with some infused bites and spirited drinks. This will definitely be a night of fine art to remember. Now check out Traci Bartlow’s thoughts in this exclusive Q&A.
M.O.I. JR: What is the story behind you originally picking up a camera and becoming a photographer in East Oakland? Who were you inspired by?
Traci: I started photographing my neighbors in the neighborhood I grew up in, after I had lived in NYC for several years and travelled to other countries. I came back home and saw my community through new eyes and was excited to document what I saw.
A friend had given me a 35 mm camera that I used in my travels. I enjoyed learning about other cultures and taking pictures of their ways of being. So once I was home, I loved photographing the beauty of home and what was familiar to me.
This was the early ‘90s, and crack was devastating to my family and community. Through the destruction, I saw the care, togetherness, family bonds, children laughing and sharing tender moments with their parents. I needed to see and document the joy and beauty of who we were even in those dark times.
In the early ‘90s, crack was devastating to my family and community. Through the destruction, I saw the care, togetherness, family bonds, children laughing and sharing tender moments with their parents. I needed to see and document the joy and beauty of who we were even in those dark times.
I was inspired by Gordon Parks in the way he documented families in poverty. I was also inspired by a man, I think his name was Wayne, and years ago, he was the picture man and would walk around the neighborhood and make portraits of people and sell them back to them. I was inspired to do the same thing. From there, I parlayed my connections in the entertainment industry to documenting the Hip Hop scene in the ‘90s.
M.O.I. JR: When did you decide that you also wanted to be on the other side of the lens as a model? Was that before or after becoming a photographer?
Traci: It was before. My background is a dancer and a performer. When I moved to New York on scholarship to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, I also pursued acting and modeling. This was the ‘80s. Super models were big, and I wanted to be one; Naomi Campbell, Veronica Webb and Linda Envangalista were all super models whose careers I followed.
M.O.I. JR: What inspired you to do a fine art exhibition of nude photographs of yourself called “My Life in Nudes”?
Traci: As I uncovered my collection of photos I shot in the Bay in the ‘90s, I came across my different modeling portfolios. In there were nude photos from different eras of my life, from various dope photographers. I wondered, what can I do with these images, how can they be shown? Knowing that my exhibition “Oakland Picture Lady Tales of a ‘90s Girl” was going to premiere in the summer of 2020 in my home gallery, I thought why not have a one night viewing of “My Life in Nudes” collection in the sanctuary of my home? It’s a safe place that I control and can share these images on my own terms.
M.O.I. JR: You have always been an artistic trailblazer in the Bay Area. What made you become a part of the Punany Poets and do an episode of HBOs Real Sex in the ‘90s? Are you still active with the Punany Poets?
Traci: As a poet, I attended lots of poetry readings and performed often. This included erotic poetry I wrote from a brief experience as a stripper and other personal reflections.
Upon meeting Jessica and performing my erotic work with them I was included in the lineup for the filming of HBO’s Real Sex. Although I’m not currently active with them, I appreciate their groundbreaking work in Black erotic expression and their message of self care and safe space.
M.O.I. JR: What are your views on the body? Black love? The sexuality of Black women?
Traci: I’m a dancer. My body is my instrument. It is the sacred vessel I am gifted to live this life in. It is my duty to honor and care for it, and to use it to the fullest of its capacity. I am a Black woman, an African woman. Black love is self love. It is the love for my family and heritage.
I am a Black woman, an African woman. Black love is self love. It is the love for my family and heritage.
This love ignites me to praise the legacy of greatness that I come from and honor my ancestors by carrying the torch. The sexuality of Black women is a powerful force of nature.
M.O.I. JR: Can you talk a little about B-Love’s Guest House? What is it and how long have you had it?
Traci: B-Love’s Guest House came about in 2008 when I was a new homeowner with rental property and could not find a tenant. The unit is a large apartment with five bedrooms on the street level of my Victorian house in West Oakland. It seems that the size of the unit, with its many bedrooms, made it hard to find the right fit for a tenant.
A few choreographer friends of mine came to town for a three-month artist residency and needed a place. That’s when it clicked, to create a space for artists coming to the Bay for gigs. Throughout my career as an artist I have produced many events and know how to transform a space.
I know the vibe I want people to feel when they walk through the doors. My mother did domestic work, so I know how to clean on a professional level. I began to stage the rooms, and then tapped into my international community of artists and activists and let them know that I have a space to rent when they come to town.
M.O.I. JR: How could people get more information and purchase tickets to Traci Bartlow’s “My Life in Nudes”?
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, journalist, author and filmmaker, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. And tune in to BlockReportTV on YouTube.