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A Homecoming in Oakland

"There is a mythology to Northern California: the Gold Rush, Haight Ashbury, the modern-day prophets of Silicon Valley"

Rian Dundon grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, before emigrating to China for six years. On his return to the U.S., he documented the inextricable changes that have transformed his hometown, his neighbors and his friends. He speaks to TIME LightBox.

Leaving home, eventually you find that the same things which drove you out are the ones that pull you back in. Learning to see a place again—and recognizing its richness—is only possible once you’ve spent time away. The big shock is realizing that while you can never truly go home again, you can linger there indefinitely. It turns out leaving is the easy part. Much harder is knowing why you came back.

Northern California is, by all accounts, somewhere special. There is a mythology to the place: the Gold Rush; Haight Ashbury; the modern-day prophets of Silicon Valley. We’ve seen a lot of change here—especially in San Francisco, where my ancestors settled and then fled the fires in 1906, decamping across the bay to a burgeoning Oakland. Big events can give us leave to break free of the people and associations that are holding us back, but it’s humbling how a shift in scenery can reset your perspective. Like moving away or going to prison. Or finding sobriety and someone to share it with. If I’ve learned one thing it’s that change is what defines us. But change can also be its own end. Whether we stay or go, the turmoil of life keeps moving us forward.

After working abroad for a number of years, coming home was a chance to better visualize my own story. Thrusting back into my childhood milieu I longed to rediscover a sense of shared history; to find solidarity with the past. This was my opportunity to address what Lucy Lippard describes as “the dialectic between place and change”. What I failed to recognize was just how much I had already disconnected from the place, and just how much that place had moved on without me. If, as Lippard contends, place is “the locus of desire”, then these pictures represent my yearning for a somewhere that no longer exists.

Homecomings are an established motif in photography. A photographer returns to his point of origin armed with some new perspective on the place, or perhaps with access unknowable to an outsider, to make fresh pictures of the local. The tradition is nearly as established as its inverse (the shooter who ventures outward into the unknown exotic), and yet it is one that could do with greater examination. Suited as it is for distant travel, perhaps photography is even better positioned as a language for explicating memory and history, and the seemingly familiar details that most of us have long since ceased paying attention to.

Rian Dundon is based in Oakland, California.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

TIME France

Hundreds of Thousands March for Victims in France

Silent marches to honor victims of this week's terrorist attacks

More than 210,000 participated in silent marches for the victims of this week’s string of terrorist attacks in France on Saturday, prompting French authorities to deploy 500 extra troops in cities around the country to protect the demonstrators.

Thousands marched silently in French cities like Paris, Nice, Orleans, Pau, Toulouse and Nantes to honor the victims and express solidarity as a nation. Almost 25,000 marched in Nice alone, some holding flags and signs to show support.

TIME ces 2015

The 15 Most Bizarre Moments From the Consumer Electronics Show

This year's CES was filled with unusual technology and bizarre presentations.

TIME France

France Stands in Silence for Terror Attack Victims

People across France observed a moment of silence Thursday on a day of national mourning to honor at least a dozen people killed in a terrorist attack on the Paris offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo

TIME France

Front Pages React to Paris Terrorist Attack on Charlie Hebdo

Many of the 12 killed in Wednesday's attack worked at the newspaper

Twelve people were killed on Wednesday when police in Paris said three gunmen attacked the office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The terrorist attack sent shock waves through the global media community, prompting an outpouring of support for the victims as officials condemned the violence and authorities hunted the assailants. Here is a selection of front pages, set for publication Thursday, that led with the tragedy.

TIME France

Parisians Hold Vigil for Dead in Charlie Hebdo Attack

Thousands turned out to honor the dead in the Place de la Republique, even though the gunmen who carried out Wednesday's shootings were still at large

TIME France

Witness Scenes From the Paris Police Response to the Charlie Hebdo Attack

At least 12 killed after gunmen attack office of satirical newspaper

Police in Paris said at least 12 people were killed Wednesday when a group of gunmen opened fire at the office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. French President François Hollande quickly arrived to the scene and labeled it a “terrorist attack,” echoing condemnations from other world leaders, as authorities began a manhunt for the assailants.

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