Michael Mehl, the founder and director of the photography festival FOTOSEPTIEMBRE-SAFOTO, describes himself as a composer, musician, photographer, digital artist, and writer. For the past two decades, Mehl has been producing, curating, and promoting many artists, especially those who work in photography. I relied on him this year to assist me in featuring the work of three artists participating in the 2023 FotoSeptiembre exhibitions. Guillermina Zabala also assisted me in identifying a photographer, San Antonio artist Francisco Cortes. The four photographers I feature in this essay include Carlos Limas, Anthony Garcia, Jorge Sandoval, and Francisco Cortes.
The first, Carlos Limas grew up in the small border town of Rio Bravo in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. At age 15 he left with his brother to continue his education at a preparatory school in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Like many teens of his generation, he did not have a career path planned. Consequently, he took courses in the sciences and in journalism before finding his vocation in graphic design. He earned a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Graphic Design from the Instituto Profesional de Arte y Diseño, Monterrey, México. He earned a second BA in the studio art program at the prestigious l’Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, in Bruxelles, Belgium.
After a short residency in Milan, Italy, Limas returned to Monterrey, Mexico where he dedicated his creative energy to directing a cultural arts program. After six years of successful events and productions, a newly elected government administration terminated his art program. In 2013, he left Monterrey to enroll in the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), Edinburg, TX. Following the completion of his MFA degree, Limas began teaching digital and analog photography at UTRGV and South Texas College. He currently serves as the Program Coordinator for the UTRGV Center for Latin American Arts covering events in México, South America, and the US. As a multidisciplinary artist, Limas works in painting, video installation, photography, and graphic design.
His series of photographs of abandoned buildings and homes came about after Limas traveled several years through the Rio Grande Valley in search of worthy subjects. The images Limas wanted seemed so difficult to find. One day he decided “to step back and simply contemplate” what he called the “invisible landscapes.” Soon he saw something of importance: abandoned homes and old structures on the side of the road. This single revelation, he wrote, “made a very strong connection to my past and present. I understood how complex the paradox of time can be.”
Lima’s “Intangible” photographic series are striking “digitally manipulated images of people and places, displaying patterns of lines that extend in different directions, transcending beyond the constraints of the picture frame.” He utilized several color palettes, “ranging from vivid and saturated colors to more neutral, almost monochromatic tones.” His images for FOTOSEPTIEMBRE can be found online at FOTOSEPTIEMBRE 2023 Online Gallery : Carlos Limas : Intangible.
The second photographer, Anthony Garcia, grew up in San Antonio and worked as a driver for UPS from 1989 to 2022. Garcia always had a passion for rock music, and he formed a band while in high school. While holding a full-time job with UPS, Garcia played bass guitar with his band on the weekends and attended concerts and music venues whenever he did not have his own gigs.
Garcia told Sanford Nowlin of the San Antonio Current that although he always had a passion for photography, it remained a pastime until 2016 when he became the in-house photographer at The Brick at Blue Star. His interactions with many artists led him to open his own photo studio at Blue Star. He also founded an online radio station, KPSA. The SA Current noted that Garcia joined in this new media endeavor with his cousin Johnny Carrera. He would broadcast from the studio as well as use the station to record videos of local artists.
In his artist statement, Garcia explained his
photographic approach: “By playing with the balance of light and shade, I seek to capture that which dwells beneath the surface.” Garcia refers to his new work as a “Rock and Roll” aesthetic with dark tonalities, “such as portraying women in power poses instead of a diminutive demeanor.” His goal is to take the viewer “on a personal reflection journey, and tell a story that takes them to another place.”
Garcia is fascinated with the early Italian paintings that art historians described as Chiaroscuro, an Italian word meaning “light-dark.” In photography, the term represents the use of light and dark elements to create a sense of volume and depth. Garcia’s images have that light and dark quality. He currently has numerous works on exhibit around San Antonio, including a public art installation at the San Antonio Airport and the 2023 FOTOSEPTIEMBRE exhibit at the Ridge at the Hill.
The third photographer, Jorge Sandoval loves the arts. Over a forty-year career, has embraced theatre performance, small acting roles, and more recently, documenting his Latino and Mexican culture. Sandoval grew up on San Luis Street in San Antonio’s Westside near Lanier High School. His street is well known to poetry lovers for its molino, a small business that Carmen Tafolla praised for its delicious corn tortillas.
After graduating from Lanier High School in the early 1970s, Sandoval relocated to California and joined the Chicano Teatro movement in the San Francisco Bay Area. A member of the famed Teatro Campesino, Sandoval traveled throughout California and beyond carrying the message of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta that farmworkers should earn decent wages, enjoy safe working conditions, and be treated fairly in labor negotiations.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Sandoval traveled extensively to Mexico, Central and South America, and Asia. Initially, he traveled for adventure and to learn about other societies. In 2000, he decided to carry a camera with him. His photos at the Centro Cultural Aztlan are a representation of his travels to Mexico, Peru, Cuba, and Malaysia. He also devoted time to documenting the Chicano murals at the San Antonio Cassiano Homes. Nearly 100 photos were selected by Centro Cultural Aztlan curators Malena Gonzalez-Cid [Centro Director] and Ruth Guajardo for Sandoval’s FotoSeptiembre exhibit.
Perhaps the largest exhibit in this year’s
FotoSeptiembre is at the Centro de Artes in San Antonio’s Mercado. A three-year curation project featuring nearly 20 photographers organized by Guillermina Zabala challenges viewers to see the “connection of common themes and narratives that go beyond borders.” The only San Antonio-based photographer in the exhibit is Francisco Cortes. [He is also the only photographer from the University of Texas Austin].
Cortes was born in Southern Mexico in a rural community between Oaxaca and Veracruz. Cortes came to San Antonio at an early age when his family immigrated to the United States. The Cortes family lived in the
Southside, and he left briefly [2001-2005] to attend UT Austin where he majored in Chicano Studies and Photojournalism. He spent a Study Abroad summer at the Universidade Federal do Bahia, Salvador do Bahia, Brazil in 2004. Cortes describes his principal photographic method as addressing “his images with a minimalist approach, accentuating but not manipulating truths.”
Cortes’ photos of the Cassiano Housing Project are engrossing. My cousin Arnold Romo worked at the Cassiano Homes for 25 years as the maintenance supervisor, and he encouraged me in 1983 to visit and photograph the community artists hired to paint many of the murals. These muralists included Vicent Valdez and Rubio. I documented many of the 60-75 Chicano murals for an exhibit at the Institute of Texan Cultures. Today, all of the murals are badly faded. Cortes uses the faded murals as a backdrop for images of residents and visitors to the small apartment Cassiano homes.
The photographs in this year’s FotoSemptiembre are exceptional. I encourage art lovers to explore the exhibit venues on the FOTOSEPTIEMBRE-SAFOTO website as well at the San Antonio galleries.