New book portrays Chicano life through the power of imagery



Jose A. Cardenas: This is second to soccer as the most popular sport in Brazil. "Picturing the Barrio" is a book that examines Chicano photography and studies ten artists. Joining me now to talk about the book is author David William Foster, ASU’s regents' professor of Spanish and women and gender studies. Welcome to "Horizonte."

David William Foster: Thank you.

Jose A. Cardenas: it is a fascinating book. You can see have I have marked up with lots of things I want to talk about. You make a comment in the introduction that Chicano photography, at least in the panorama of Latin American art, is largely overlooked.

David William Foster: Yeah, because photography has been said that everyone can be a photographer so the idea something is special about photography is sometimes difficult to identify with. And particularly with the case of Chicanos most of the photography being done is daily life and that is not viewed as artistic or profound or intellectual enough so photography has been overlooked. But that is changing and i hope the book continues to change.

Jose A. Cardenas: What were you trying to do with the book?

David William Foster: Exactly that. To intervene in what is a shift in the perception of the importance of photography. The Getty Museum in Las Angeles has been putting effort into Latin American art and Latina art and that is very important coming from Las Angeles. There is more and more recognition of photography. There are galleries throughout the countries that have done expo expositions on Chicano photographers. It is an emerging field. I wanted to put some of the important photographers together in the book. I focus on 10 photographers as you said and they are represented by a published book.

Jose A. Cardenas: Then you divided them into three areas. I want to go through some of those and show some pictures. The first you called the mad groupings and were the barrio Chicano anchor. What were you trying to illustrate there?

David William Foster: The way in which this photograph and other photographers focus on how important life is and that is stressing barrio live is an anchor. In Chicanos no matter how high they move in the world very often continue to identify with the barrio. Why? Because their grandparents, or parents, or siblings still live in the barrio or they have friends in the barrio. So the barrio is always present. It is where you came from and where you go back to.

Jose A. Cardenas: And the next picture we have in this portion is a little bit more of a political statement. Here day of the dead.

David William Foster: Yes, that is one of the most famous. This was after a major riot that took place in downtown Las Angeles at the corner of Whittier and Arizona Avenue as a matter of fact. And he is a gorilla artist, an action artist is another term that is used, very much in your face with what why does. He as a group of people he works with and they went the day after this riot and held a banquet at the place of that riot. This is probably one of the most famous images in all of Chicano photography.

Jose A. Cardenas: There are two other photographers in this section of the book that we don't have pictures of but I want to make sure we mention one of them is from Tucson.

David William Foster: Yes, and that is the cover of the book. He is a very beloved figure in the Chicano community. He would have identified as a Mexican-American. His daughter told me in communicating with her about her father's photography and then getting permission to use it was that my father considered himself a Mexican-American. We children are the Chicanos. And that is a very interesting transition.

Jose A. Cardenas: You discuss in the introduction how to title it.

David William Foster: Yes, we went back and forth. I went with colleagues and with the editor of the press what exactly is the best possible term to use here and of course there is no best possible term. There is so many political imp implications.

Jose A. Cardenas: Let me go to the second section of the book, which is, you entitle it individual subjectivity especially as they relate to gender which is interesting considering the matista aspect. The first picture is from Laura Agular. A woman overweight and lesbian and that is the focus of her work it seems.

David William Foster: Very much so. This is very courageous photography. Perhaps the most courageous in the book. Here a woman that is considered to be obese by standards in the United States who is willing to go the desert, naked to pose in natural settings, and photograph her own body and photograph her own body in ways that for many viewers might appear to be disgusting. This is very significant. What she is saying is I too am a human being and I identify with the desert and here is how i identify with the desert. Look at me and appreciate my humanity.

Jose A. Cardenas: And speaking of identity, the next picture is a group of young Chicanos in the street and you talk about this is illustrating the process of being a man in the world of Chicano life but you also talk about the aspects of homosexuality.

David William Foster: No, I talk about the way men are bonded to look out for each other's interest in a particularly hostile world particularly in lower class. This is from a sequence and based around a poem called Batos. Boys in the hood might be one translation. It is a very beautiful and eloquent poem. It is a poem written like a religious litany on different types. What the photographer does, and the other photographer from Tucson in the book, he does photographs that match the poem by Luis Tura. He photographs and matches the different elements of the litany of the poem about how you are a man in Chicano society.

Jose A. Cardenas: And then we have the last section of the book, which you entitled Chicano Cultural Perspectives. And the first picture would be what many think of the older couple dancing to mariachi music.

David William Foster: He doesn't do much in the way of urban photography or much in the way of specifically Chicano photography. He is a well-known but what happened here is he got involved in a project in Las Angeles to save the boil hotel --

Jose A. Cardenas: Preserving the culture there. I hate to interrupt but want to make sure we talk about two more. The last one by Ken Gonzalez day. The first one, I guess, is based on his academic work about lynching in the southwest of Mexicans.

David William Foster: And also of Asians, other Latin Americans, not Mexicans. Let's say in general terms men of Latino color.

Jose A. Cardenas: And we have one more picture speaking of men of Latino color here and from Ken Gonzalez day.

David William Foster: Yes, and this image, which is the only one in Gonzalez-Day's photography that folks on a particular individual is on an individual who would likely be a candidate for lynching.

Jose A. Cardenas: On that somber note we will have to end the interview. Thank you so much joining us.

Jose A. Cardenas: And thank you for joining us tonight for "Horizonte." I am Jose Cardenas. Have a good evening.

"Horizonte" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS. Members of your PBS station. Thank you.

“Picturing the Barrio” is the first book-length examination of Chicano photography.

David William Foster, author and ASU Regents’ Professor of Spanish and Women and Gender Studies, analyzes the imagery of 10 artists who have different approaches to portraying Chicano life.

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In this segment:

David William Foster: ASU Regents’ Professor of Spanish and Women and Gender Studies

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