The Arts

home | metro silicon valley index | the arts | visual arts | review


Photograph by Deborah Arajs
A PHOTOG AND HIS DOG: Photo exhibit winner Jai Tanju celebrates with his pal Frida.

And the Winner Is...

Jai Tanju's 'Skater' wins top honors at Metro's inaugural Photo Exhibit during South First Friday

By Andrea Frainier

THE VOTES have been tallied, and the people have spoken—the winner of Metro's inaugural photo exhibit is San Jose photographer Jai Tanju for his black-and-white photograph of an unknown French skateboarder, appropriately named Skater. The theme of the first group show is "I Live Here."

During the opening for the exhbit, which was one of many events on June 5 during South First Friday and the SubZERO festival, visitors had the opportunity to vote for the photograph they felt best fit the theme. Thirty-seven submissions from 20 artists were accepted and are on display in Metro's new lobby gallery through the end of July.

Tanju's winning entry, Skater, presents a vertigo-inducing bird's-eye-view of a skateboarder in the middle of a "very stylish" backside ollie off a banked brick wall adjacent to a San Jose State University high-rise parking structure that wraps around the corner of Tenth Street and San Fernando Avenue in downtown San Jose. This area is known by local skateboarders as "the bricks."

With his dog Frida in tow, Tanju discussed photography, skateboarding and San Jose's local charm. Tanju, whose passion for San Jose ignited his career as a street photographer, said that Skater embodies his deep love for the city. "When I heard the theme, I just thought of San Jose," Tanju said. "The San Jose 'bricks' is a home spot, and it really reminds me of downtown."


FLIGHT PATTERN: A skateboarder gets airborne at the 'bricks' in Jai Tanju's winning photograph, 'Skater.'

A skateboarder himself, Tanju said he waited 10 years to capture this image. He always met with failure because of the skate-stoppers that were installed in order to prevent skateboarders from testing their skills on the structure.

A series of serendipitous events in the summer of 2003 finally allowed him to capture his prized shot. It all began when Tanju took a bicycle ride down East Santa Clara Street. He noticed a group of skateboarders piling out of a van. One of the skaters was a Frenchman whom Tanju had met years before during his travels abroad.

"They got out of the van, and I just happened to know one of them," he recalled. "We started to talk, and they'd been going from Los Angeles to San Francisco and got off at San Jose by accident." Tanju invited the group to stay in his downtown home, and later he showed them "the bricks."

"It just happened to be that one summer when I saw the French guys that somebody had taken off the skate-stoppers on this one bank," Tanju said.

"It was weird, because that's usually a spot where we would be kicked out by the San Jose State police, but we ended up skating for hours that day."

Practically a lifetime resident of San Jose (his family moved to San Jose when he was in the fourth grade), Tanju began documenting his love of the downtown area some 15 years ago after he took a semester-long photography class at West Valley College.

Tanju's photography can be found in skateboarding magazines, a number of self-published books and online at Film Por Vida, a photo exchange blog ( he created three years ago in order to swap photographs with friends and strangers across the globe.

Despite the age of digital cameras and photo-enhancing software, Tanju remains a purist, preferring to shoot his downtown subjects with a black-and-white-film camera. Tanju said it's more satisfying to develop film by hand, and he is currently in the middle of transforming his garage into a darkroom.

Although his experiences have taken him across the country and around the world, Tanju faithfully remains in his hometown. "What always brings me back to San Jose is the people and my friends," he explained. "I think that's really our gem here in San Jose. It's not the city or any one landmark, but it's more the people who live here. I think people love San Jose or they don't, and I'm definitely a lover of San Jose, especially downtown."

THE METRO PHOTO EXHIBIT runs through July in the lobby, 550 S. First St., San Jose.

Send a letter to the editor about this story.

find art events

Arts Guide


Museums and gallery notes.

Reviews of new book releases.

Reviews and previews of new plays, operas and symphony performances.

Reviews and previews of new dance performances and events.