Award-winning photographer shines a light on stereotypes
By Melissa Lindley
It’s hard to imagine ever winning a Pulitzer Prize for your passion of photographs when during your life, the people who were supposed to support you never thought taking pictures was something worthwhile. José Galvez did just that, proving his family wrong.
Galvez spoke to a small audience of students and faculty in the Sweigart Auditorium on Wednesday. He was a guest speaker for Hispanic Heritage Month and presented a gallery of his work prior to his lecture. Galvez discussed how his Latino upbringing influenced his photography and inspired him to use his art to educate people about the community in which he was raised.
Galvez refers to himself as a street photographer, taking candid photographs of everyday people doing ordinary things, for over 40 years. He has been snapping pictures across the country, particularly in his home state of Arizona and throughout the Southern United States. His work has been featured in numerous museums, including the Smithsonian, and he was the first Mexican-American staff photographer for The Los Angeles Times.
The given presentation was titled Shine, and it focused heavily on the struggles he faced as a Mexican-American and the process of how he decided to become a photojournalist.
“I had opportunities, and I took advantage of them,” he said.
His exposure to the world of journalism began when he shined shoes for the staff of The Arizona Daily Star, spending his days shadowing reporters, being a copy boy and carrying out small errands. Falling in love with photography after purchasing his first camera, he struggled to pursue his passion because of a weak support system of people who did not want him to succeed. He ended up becoming the first member of his family to graduate college, getting encouragement from the journalists who saw him as more than just a Mexican boy from a poor family.
“My family didn’t really value education,” he explained, saying that they considered higher education and non blue-collar work as “trying too hard.”
Despite the minimal support, Galvez used this as encouragement to highlight the various aspects of what it means to be Chicano. He explained that the word implied not just identifying as Mexican-American but embracing the community.
His photos feature people he encounters when he travels, some he knows personally and who are strangers. They include neighborhood children playing on the street, field workers, and even gang initiations. The focus is to give people a taste of someone else’s life.
“Pictures are about memories,” he said.
Galvez shoots only in black and white and exclusively uses film. He said he finds that color is “too distracting, and detracts from the image that is being captured” and digital photography is considered “sloppy and all looks the same.” He said he likes that black and white has a documentary-type feel to it and carries the aspect of simplicity.
“Film challenges you to be good,” He said. “It makes you sharper and think about the image.”
One of Galvez’s missions is to make people see much more than just the generalizations that are attributed to the Latino community. He focuses on trying to change the way the country views immigration and racial issues.
He wants people to know that not all members of the Latin community are taking advantage of the system and that we should take the time to ensure that immigrants can have the resources to flourish and become citizens.
“We’re all very much alike,” Galvez stressed. “We share the same interests, religion, family, work. I want people to break those stereotypes they have.”
Students at the event seemed to walk away with a newfound appreciation and knowledge on the topics of Galvez’s presentation.
“The lecture was very informative and interesting,” said Alicia Abruzzese, a junior public relations major. “I know more about many things like the Latino movement and art that I didn’t know about before.
Overall, the No. 1 goal for him is not just to have the Chicano community experience his work, but for people of every cultural background to have the opportunity. He said education is the most important thing to continue to help the culture integrate even more into American society. Eliminating stereotypes, encouraging the Latino society to pursue higher education and embracing roots is what he feels will help better society.
“Shine,” he concluded. “Serve your people. Honor where you came from.”
Printed in the 11-30-12 edition