Category Archives: berkeley border

The Book Zoo ~ weird & wonderful

Next installment in our series of independent bookstores is Book Zoo.  Not exactly the antithesis of our starting point Walden Pond Books (the owners actually worked there before opening up their own shop), it is, however, the smallest bookstore I’ll be covering.  So from largest to smallest, we bookend our collection… we’ll fill in the rest of the shelf over the next week or so.

oakland book stores, independent bookstores oakland

independent bookstore east bay, indie book store oakland

Book Zoo is a rare breed of bookstore.  I was going to say “dying” breed, but I didn’t want to start off on a dour note, because this is truly something to cherish rather than mourn.  These guys are old-school.  Really old-school.  They don’t even have a cash register… instead using a secret compartment in a hollowed out book as their cash stash.  It’s incredible.

Book Zoo, Erik Lyngen

What’s more incredible is their uniquely curated collection of books. Limited by their small store, they don’t try to be everything to everyone, and they don’t carry books that are easily found elsewhere.  In fact, owner Erik Lyngen has an almost disdain for the commonly popular.  And as one who fails to understand the mass-appeal of much current pop-culture (e.g. – American Idol), I completely get where he’s coming from.

Book Zoo sells almost exclusively used books, about 95%; the other 5% are remainders.  They buy their books from the local community and are highly selective about what they’ll take.  You’ll find this is the case with most used bookstores these days (other than places like Half Price Books in Berkeley who’ll take your whole load, but give you pennies on the dollar).  They have to maintain inventories that they think will move, or that will at least be uniquely interesting.

When I asked Erik specifically what type of stuff he was looking for, he said, “the juicy stuff.” I asked what that meant, and he said, “you know how people are constantly cycling through books, clearing off their shelves to make way for new ones, but no matter how many garage sales they have, or how many used book stores they sell to, there’s one corner of the bookcase that they just can’t part with.  That’s the stuff we want.” The unusual, the eclectic, often radical, and weirdly unconventional… drugs, sex, occult, philosophy, poetry, sci-fi pulp.  You get the idea.

discount books, cheap books oakland, eclectic bookstore oakland

flag with peace symbol, radical politics

You can see this from just a quick glimpse at their storefront.  While others typically host the current top sellers, Book Zoo features titles like The Ballet Lover’s Companion, Ecology of Fear, Visions ~ A History of the East Bay African American Community, Female Desires, Fighting for G.O.D. (Gold, Oil, & Drugs), and Cuntionary (you’ll have to go see for yourself what that one’s all about).

I asked about the challenges of competing with the likes of Amazon or Borders, but these guys aren’t competing in that arena at all. They’ve really carved out their own niche, creating a one of a kind experience that can’t be replicated online, or in a homogenous chain.  This is not the bookstore you come to with a book in mind, expecting to find it, or counting on them to order it for you.  No.  You come to Book Zoo to browse.  To explore.  To find something unexpected. For example, there’s a small rack of poetry books & pamphlets near the front door, including handmade books by the likes of  Greying Ghost Press who “seek to reassure the reading public that printed matter won’t vanish.”

Book Zoo Oakland

This falls in line with Erik’s philosophy as well. He’s not worried about the future of reading printed books. He offers this brief exercise… Imagine you could create your own dream community Main Street. What would you have? Among other things (grocery store, cafe, post office, etc.) you would undoubtedly have a bookstore, wouldn’t you? I would.

Independent Bookstores oakland

book zoo oakland, eric Lyngen

Erik and partner Nick Raymond have created a warm & comfortable spot at 6395 Telegraph Ave. near the intersection of Alcatraz. It’s a tough location, being more car-friendly than pedestrian-oriented, but they’ve established Book Zoo as a destination in itself. Unusual art, posters, and artifacts decorate the walls, comfortable chairs & couches beckon visitors to sit and stay awhile, and a nice children’s section in the back welcomes kids too. They might even get to meet Ramona, Erik’s daughter and spunky helper on-hand (pictured above).

Their hours are limited… signs and website playfully say “By Appointment and or Chance.” Some may find this frustrating, but the truth is they simply don’t have the luxury to be open all the time,  both owners having other jobs to make ends meet.  The store is a real labor of love, and while friends pitch in to cover shifts, Erik admits they are chronically understaffed. You’ll mostly find them open Tuesday – Friday Evenings and most weekends. They also host frequent events, typically featuring live music. Check out their schedule here, as well as Erik’s photos of events and collection of customer portraits.

Go visit Book Zoo, and support your local independent booksellers!

Pinhole Photography!!!

For those who are unfamiliar with pinhole photography, or those who are, but still find themselves wondering (in this day and age of instant digital gratification) Why?, I’ll tell you… but I’m going to use someone else’s words. There’s a wonderful short essay titled “Why Pinhole? Why Indeed!” and the crux of it is this…

Pinhole is photography at its most basic. I love the freedom it affords any and all who take it up. As a means of expression it frees us from the bonds of the camera salesmen and the companies who seek to create ever fancier cameras that take the intuition out of making photographs.

I couldn’t agree more.  And that’s one of the wonderful things about Looking Glass Photo… in addition to the latest and greatest in digital, they’ve got all kinds of fun “toy” cameras (I bought my Holga there) and they’ll talk your ears off about film.  Yes, FILM.  I don’t know about you guys, but I actually miss film. The folks at Looking Glass encourage me to pick it up again, experiment with it, and remember what it was I found so captivating about photography in the first place.

Here’s my most successful image from last sunday’s Pinhole Photography Workshop…

pinhole photo, negative print film

As you can see, this is a negative print. We used negative paper because it has more “latitude” than positive print paper (meaning it’s more forgiving when you screw up). Which is easy to do with pinhole photography because there’s no light meter and no built-in computer determining the perfect exposure for you. Below is the inverted image, which you can see is slightly overexposed (at 30 seconds)…

I tried to create a ghosted image of myself by standing in the photo frame for about half that time, but all you can see is my ankles and calves (between tree and stop sign). Not exactly the effect I was going for. But that’s half the fun… it’s a bit of a mystery.

pinhole photography, negative print paper

We started out the workshop by building our own pinhole cameras. Boxes were provided, or you could bring your own, and the helpful folks from Looking Glass instructed us to:

  • paint the interiors and any see thru parts black
  • drill a pinhole into a tiny super thin sheet of metal (this would be our lens)
  • drill a larger hole into our box
  • mount the tiny sheet of metal with hole behind the larger hole (tape in place)
  • create “shutter” with piece of gaffer’s tape
  • and VOILA, one camera created!

Here are some pics of us building our cameras…

pinhole camera workshop, looking glass photo

pinhole camera workshop, looking glass photo

pinhole camera workshop, looking glass photo

Next we went into the darkroom to load film into our boxes. As I mentioned above we started with negative print film to work on getting our exposure right. We were instructed to try various lengths of time, develop each one, and see which one worked best. The exposure times really varied depending on the size of the hole drilled, and the lighting conditions (full sun, shade, etc.)

Probably the most fun for me was developing the sheets of paper in the darkroom. There’s nothing quite like watching an image unfold, almost magically, as your paper sways back and forth in a small sea of liquid, dimly lit by a single amber bulb. It’s pretty cool.

Here are a couple shots of the darkroom…

pinhole workshop at looking glass photo

looking glass berkeley, photo darkroom berkeley

The Looking Glass is in the process of scanning all the images from Sunday’s workshop and will have one from each participant online.  They should be up by Friday, you can check these links…

True TrustoCorp.

What a weekend! Wow. I hope you all had as much fun as I did. I pretty much did it all, and I’ll be sharing some of the details throughout the week, but right now I want to share this very cool piece of street art. It’s a true TrustoCorp.

trustocorp, trustocorp street sign, trustocorp graffiti

A friend wrote in after my No Killing Anytime post to say that the series looked like the work of TrustoCorp. They certainly did, but they actually weren’t. They were wheatpastes that had been applied over existing real street signs. The way TrustoCorp does it is they manufacture real metal signs.

When this one caught my eye initially, I thought it was a real city sign. Woah, I thought, Berkeley really is progressive! (Sign was spotted right outside Looking Glass Photo on Telegraph Ave where the Pinhole Workshop was held yesterday… great fun… more on that later.) But as I got closer I spotted the TrustoCorp logo (the T inside the “wings”) and then this on the back…

trustocorp sign, trustocorp berkeley, real men use fists

I was particularly excited to see this piece of street art because the whole blogittersphere was abuzz last week with the sightings of possibly Banksy pieces in San Fran, and I was feeling a little left out…

Folks aren’t sure if these are the real deal (they look pretty authentic to me) or the work of a copycat artist, but either way, it’s certainly great P.R. for the recent release of the new street art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. The film had a sneak preview showing in S.F. on the 15th, and is now playing Bay-wide at a few select locations…

Exit Through the Gift Shop Showtimes

In any case, I think Mr. Banksy and the folks from TrustoCorp should make their way over to Oaktown! C’mon y’all, show us what you got…

Pinhole Day Workshop @ The Looking Glass

Ok, full frontal disclaimer… this event takes place in Berkeley.  I know, I know.  I can hear some of you groaning already…

But Berkeley is good for a few things… like amazing radio (KALX you rock!), incredible Indian food (Vik’s, yummm!), used record/cd shops (I love you Amoeba), a wealth of intellectual and progressive “capital” that truly drives our country forward (despite how annoying it can be sometimes), and this photography store:  Looking Glass Camera & Photo Supply.  Their motto is “the camera store that loves you back!” and it’s really true.

buy local, the looking glass, best camera store east bay

This Sunday, April 25th, they’re hosting their annual Pinhole Day Workshop & Celebration in honor of Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day.  Don’t know what I’m talking about?  Photobugs are likely familiar with the concept, but for you laypeople out there, a pinhole camera is the simplest kind of camera consisting of nothing more than a box with a tiny hole in it.  There is no actual lens.

It easy to make a pinhole camera out of a box or cyclinder (I’m going to use a coffee can) by simply poking a hole into your container.  You need a way to cover the hole… simplest method is thick tape, like electrical tape.  You also need a larger opening into the container so you can put your film in.  My coffee can already has one built in… a shoebox, similarly.  And then the whole thing has to be relatively light-tight, so you don’t get light leaking in through seams to expose your film in unwanted ways.

I won’t get into all the physics of it, but the neat thing about pinhole photography is that everything from the closest blade of grass to the farthest horizon line are all equally in focus.  You can also make multiple exposures, or create interesting visual “tricks” with long exposures.

In any case, The Looking Glass is like one of those old-school mom & pop shops. They’re always throwing fun & interesting events to bring the community together around a shared passion of photography.  Others include Print Swaps, Summer Lectures,  Photo Contests, Free Studio Portraits on Halloween (you have to be in costume!), and more.  Plus all the other stuff you want from your camera/photo store, and great prices that are comparable with the big boys in the city, but you don’t have to drive across the bridge.

looking glass photo, pinhole day workshop, worldwide pinhole photo day

Sunday’s workshop costs $10 for adults and $5 for kids… In their words “Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day is a great way to create and share the most historic and simple form of the camera. Our workshop gives you the chance to make your own camera, capture your image with a minimum of fuss, then print out your photo in our darkroom. It’s the ultimate in hands-on photography!”

I’ll be there. Hope you will too…

More info here:
Pinhole Photography Resources
Looking Glass Photo on Yelp
Contemporary Pinhole Photography Gallery