José Galvez, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, has made waves in the photography world documenting the lives of Hispanic Americans in exclusively black-and-white photographs. He now brings his influence to the Tulsa area with “Aquí Estamos,” a small collection of some of his best work which is currently featured at the Thomas K. McKeon Center for Creativity.
Galvez’s photography is an attempt to portray the lives of Hispanic Americans in an intimate and honest way; his intent is both to educate and to celebrate Latino culture.
His talent is immediately evident in “Aquí Estamos.” The photographs are candid in the best way; they offer snippets of daily life such as a family in their panadería (bakery), a teen boy turning around to peer into the camera lens, a group of women and their children hailing from Guatemala and Mexico, and a old woman with a shrewd smirk. The decision to feature only black and white photography gives a sense of seriousness to the exhibit. Rather than making the photos seem gloomy, the effect is profound.
The whole setup left me with the indescribable gut feeling one has when being allowed an intimate view of someone else’s life, a bittersweet lump in the throat.
Though the photography featured in “Aquí Estamos” was outstanding, certain aspects of the exhibit made the experience less enjoyable than it could have been.
The casual setup of the exhibit was a little off-putting. For starters, there was little information available about the location of the exhibit- I only knew it was at the TCC, and having never been there before, I ended up wandering the lookalike white halls for several minutes before a friendly receptionist directed me to the event hall. The exhibit consisted of several panels featuring a couple photos each, which I had to gaze at, shuffling about awkwardly, while several people were setting up for another event in the hall.
I also would have liked to see more of Galvez’s work. The photographs featured were stunning, but there were only a dozen or so set up in the event hall. According to the blurbs at the beginning of the exhibit, Galvez’s career and work are extensive.
The exhibit, a traveling display currently set up at a fairly small community college, likely needed to be compact and simple. That said, the work was intriguing, but visiting the exhibit felt like dipping one’s toes into the pool rather than leaping into the ocean.
Despite some shortcomings, when you get to the bottom of it “Aquí Estamos” has an extremely important, relevant and moving purpose: to help us see and understand one another.
A statement by Galvez posted at the front of the exhibit sums it up beautifully.
“If you are not Latino, I hope you will walk away with a better understanding of who we are. I hope your eyes will be opened to seeing us, your neighbors, and your heart opened to welcoming us. If you are Latino, I hope that you walk away with a pride in your community. Never be ashamed of humble roots and hard work. Never give up on your dreams. And know that this great country, whether you were born here or not, is better off because of you.”
“Aquí Estamos” will be on display in the Event Hall of the Thomas K. McKeon Center for Creativity through Sept 30, 2015. It is free to visit and open to the public from 7:00 AM- 5:00 PM daily.