Galvez giving voice to the disparate diasporic Latino

Photo by Noah Morrison
Photo by Noah Morrison

In José Galvez’s talk on Wednesday, September 24, many of the ambiguities present in the exhibit shown in McCabe’s atrium from August 26 to September 26 were clarified. The talk began with Galvez being introduced by Professor Milton Machuca-Gálvez, who was responsible for bringing the photographer to campus. Machuca-Gálvez answered a few questions prior to the talk that served to inform the information presented at the talk itself.

Machuca-Gálvez said that Galvez was brought to Swarthmore for a specific reason.

“A colleague of mine introduced me to his work. Since some of my areas of interest and research are immigration, Latinos in the U.S.A, and visual anthropology I checked [out] his work,” he said. “I found it extremely interesting and visually beautiful.”

Galvez prefaced the talk by saying that he has dedicated his entire life to photographing Latin-Americans, and will do so until he is no longer able. The photographer began his talk with the early stages of his life accompanied by a generally chronological set of photos. Galvez then proceeded to begin to tell his life’s story.

The photographer was born in a neighborhood of Tuscon, Ariz. called Barrio Hollywood, which is comprised of mainly working-class Mexican-Americans. One of the most interesting facts about his life is how he begun working in journalism. While Galvez was in high school, he shined shoes to make ends meet. One day, someone asked him to shine the shoes of a man who worked in the news bureau of the Arizona Daily Star and next thing he knew, he was working there.

Galvez slowly worked his way up the ranks, and eventually had to make the decision to report or to photograph for the paper. In what can be seen as one of the most important takeaways from the entire lecture, Galvez chose to be a photographer. He explained this decision by telling us that photographers have the opportunity to cover more ground than typical journalists do.

In Phoenix, where he spent his career through the 1960s and ’70s, he photographed everything from mafiosos to Chicano movements in the area. In the early 1980’s Galvez felt he had moved on from what was going on in Phoenix professionally and personally and moved to Los Angeles.

When he arrived in Los Angeles, he began photographing in a completely different environment for himself and for the Latin-American community. Galvez spoke of the struggles he had to endure with management to photograph the stories he felt were most important. From this fight came one of the most gratifying rewards for hard work in journalism, the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Galvez continued with the Los Angeles Times until 1992, when, in his words, life came around. He got married, had children shortly after, and moved with his family to North Carolina. He continued to work, but on his own terms. Surprisingly for Galvez, being in North Carolina reinvigorated his career. Upon moving there, he did not expect the Latin-American community to be so present. From this, Galvez begun a new path of exploration in his work: the wider Latin-American diaspora in the South and in small-town America. His current work is a variation on this theme.

Galvez sometimes spoke of the photos that were passing by on the screen next to him, sometimes not. However, each one weaved seamlessly into his narrative. Much of what Galvez spoke about was related to the unexpected. For example, he had many anecdotes involving Latin-American families in small towns in the South, who brought their cultural practices and certain haunts such as the taquería or the panadería. He also spoke of populations of Latin American’s in various small towns and cities in America (50 percent of Lancaster, Pa., 40 percent of Hazelton, Pa.).

The discussion that followed the talk was just as interesting. Galvez brought up such diverse topics as whom he has changed through his photography, film versus digital and the merits of Humans of New York. In his discussion, he explained why he only shoots on black and white film. He said black and white forces him to educate, leaves things plain, and leaves room for thought. This sentiment absolutely rings true throughout the immense narrative arc of his photography.

One of the last anecdotes Galvez told was about a photograph he took recently at a Gay Pride event in the South. He was responding to a question about digital photography, and he said that he went to the parade looking to shoot informally and only brought his point-and-shoot camera. But, almost serendipitously, he saw a photo that he had to take. It was two Latino men embracing each other in the back of a truck, a quiet and poignant moment for Galvez among the high energy of Pride. He went on to say, from this anecdote, that Latino’s represent everyone: gay or female, poor or wealthy, documented or undocumented.

Galvez’s photography firmly embraces the humanity of the Latin-American diaspora, and gives a voice to people who would normally be silenced in our society. The combination of the photo series in McCabe and the talk itself paints a picture of a man who is intrepid, trustful, and deeply cares about the perception of Latin-Americans in this country. His work is both noble and inclusive, a feat which makes him a photographic icon.

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