MONOLITH | YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

In the Spring of 1927 a young photographer but experienced climber, trekked deep into snowbound Yosemite National Park in California. But his hike didn’t go according to plan with the light about to die and just two glass plates left for his 4x5 view camera. Under pressure, he created what many consider one of the greatest masterpieces of American or any other landscape art, Monolith, The Face of Half Dome. Ansel Adams captured the great mountain in dramatic light and would change how Americans saw their country. When Adams came on this scene, it was an epiphany. It was like falling in love, but more importantly, he became not just Yosemite’s photographer, but its great artist, the high priest of its temple, of its stone, its light, its water. What he created in those landscape altarpieces, was an America irradiated with luminous majesty, taller than the highest skyscraper, more powerful than the mightiest business corporation, and he wanted Yosemite to be for everyone, as this is our land. By the 1950’s Ansel Adams’ photographs had become the iconic images of the American west.  

Starting in the 1920’s, Ansel Adams pioneered an approach that insisted photography was not simply a mechanical process, but a true art form. His method was to work backwards from the image he’d visualized then anticipate the moment when the light and subject could be seen at their most illuminating and then, with the press of the button, realize that vision. In 1960, the year John F. Kennedy became president calling for a new frontier, Adams published a book, This is the American Earth. It became an instant bestseller. More and more Adams’ photographs became preachy, but those visual sermons were radiant, mystical, ecstatic. They’re passionate statements of how humanity could be redeemed through the encounter with nature. He became a kind of patriarch of environmentalism, and every so often he’d put the camera down and even go away from his beloved Yosemite to try and persuade this or that president to his point of view, but throughout, he remained steadfast to his belief that his job in life was to give visual form to that silken cord tying together the fate of man with the fate of the Earth. 

It was the moment for some, when the photographer became a prophet. In 1977, when the Voyager spacecrafts were launched with a golden record containing images and sounds of Earth and its inhabitants, Adams’ images were among them. My photographs of Yosemite will never come close to those of Adams, considering he carried a 4x5 camera and tripod up there and I a modest, lightweight Nikon F3. After a two-hour hike in the middle of the rain and snow, I laid eyes on Half Dome. I cried. As I stood watching, I thought how this massive rock will be the most majestic thing I will ever see. I marveled at how many more millions have seen it, how many photographs have been taken, and how long Half Dome will it stand long after we’re gone. 

“We all move on the fringes of eternity and are sometimes granted vistas through the fabric of illusion.” – Ansel Adams 

NOCHIXTLÁN, OAXACA | A PILGRIMAGE TO THE PAST

While my Grandmother, Mother and I were born in the Central Valley region of Oaxaca, our roots dig further back to the Mixtec region of Oaxaca as well its peoples. Like most children, I was never curious to know where my Great Grandparents were from or my family for that matter. As I’ve grown older however and accepted my own mortality, I’ve grown fond with the small towns of Oaxaca and the connections they have with my family and where we’re from, as well as my family history which I may not comprehensively be able document. Though we no longer have living relatives in San Pedro Tidaá, I was adamant on visiting the town during my visit in October of 2016 to gain further knowledge of where my family had its beginnings. After all its where my Great Grandparents were born, met, married and now their eternal resting place.

My Great Grandparents were minimalists at heart and of few words, born in the early 1900’s in the village of San Pedro Tidaá, a satellite that sits in the outskirts of Asunción Nochixtlán, about a two-hour drive north of the Oaxaca capital. Both spoke little Spanish on account of the Mixtec dialect being their native tongue, an ancient language that dates before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors to the New World. Atage fourteen he asked her parents for her hand in marriage, she was twelve. In the early 1920’s, they married on August 6thduring a patron saints day festival of the town. During their mid-twenties, the construction of a main highway connecting the capital of Oaxaca to Mexico City brought him to Oaxaca as a laborer. After the highway was complete, they picked up what little belongings they had along with their three children and moved to Oaxaca, they later had four additional children. During the Mexican Revolution, the Presidential Building (record building) of San Pedro Tidaá was burned down forcing them to pick up new birth certificates while in Oaxaca, unfortunately they sort of made a date of birth up and because of this, we never really knew how old they were upon their death.

I never got a chance properly get to know my Great Grandparents, an unfortunate side effect of living in a different country. After fifteen years however, I finally got to see them for the first time in the summer of 2007. It was here my Great Grandfather told tales of finding ancient artifacts in the ground during the yearly monsoon season. Showed me a boulder he found at the hill near the ancient city of Monte Alban, which produces a sound like that of a ringing bell when hit with a piece of the same boulder, I concluded it was a meteorite. Advised me to save and bury my money, which I have not done yet, but then again, he did live through the Mexican Revolution where it was common to bury your possessions. During my daily visits to their house, my Great Grandfather made sure I had a cup of coffee at the ready when I walked into the house, I picked up the morning coffee habit thereafter. My Great Grandmother on the other hand didn’t talk much on matters but did mention how Oaxaca has never changed since she moved there, which is why she never left house at her age and prayed for it not change after she’s gone. A little less than a year after this visit my Great Grandfather passed away in 2008 at what we believe was at age one hundred and three.

I took a day trip with my Mom, Grandmother and Great Aunt to San Pedro Tidaá during my visit in October of 2016, we left Oaxaca in the morning and arrived in Asunción Nochixtlán around mid-day. I treated myself to some consommé and a pound of barbacoa at the local Mercado and shopped around for the elusive Aguardiente, while my Great Aunt picked up a few things to cook once we got to her property in San Pedro Tidaá. There’s no reliable public transit from Nochixtlán to Tidaá, however, with her ever-impressive negotiation skills my Grandmother tric…. convinced, a local taxi driver to take us out there and pick us up in the afternoon. Mind you, it’s close to an hour each way. Upon arriving we first stopped at the cemetery were my Great Grandfather is buried to pay our respects and decorate the grave site with marigold flowers (Flor de Muerto). My Great Aunt placed marigolds on the grave sites of our distant relatives as well, though I couldn’t tell, as Mother Nature had wiped the names off the grave stones. What took me by surprised was the way people are buried here. Men are buried on the north side of the cemetery, while the women are buried on the south. I asked why but got the usual “that’s just how things are done around here” answer. We didn’t spend much time in the village as there isn’t much to see or do outside of a patron saints day festival. I was on the phone with my Grandmother for a couple hours asking her questions for this blog post, it turned out the church where my Great Grandparents were married is still standing, which I will pay my visit sometime next year. My Great Grandfather was the bell ringer for this church in his youth, and the very bells he’d ring collapsed during an earthquake, but I was told these bells currently sit at the foot of the church. 

My Great Grandmother, the Matriarch of my family passed away in the landing months of 2017 at the age of a hundred, this was after my last visit to Oaxaca that year. With her went the ancient language of the Mixtec peoples as she was the last native speaker in our family. My Grandmother understands the language though not to the full extent as her eldest siblings who picked up the language sufficiently enough to speak it. However, I believe my Great Grandmother’s legacy will live on forever through her food, as she taught my Grandmother how to cook, who in turn taught my Mom, who then taught me the pre-Hispanic dishes of the family at an early age. I have done my best to carry on her legacy with my versions of these dishes when I cook for my friends. As I believe the best way to continue, appreciate and showcase my family’s culture and heritage, is through the food that has been passed down to me by the women of my family. 

My Great Grandparents lived through every major event of the 20th century, and were both superstitious and believed cameras to be soul thieves, so they didn’t appreciate their photo taken while I was around them during the summer of 2007, even if I asked kindly for a portrait. To my surprise on my last visit to their house while I was walking out after my goodbyes to them, my Great Grandfather stopped me in my tracks and asked to have his photo taken together with my Great Grandmother. He picked up his best dress shirt and hat, and she picked up her best shall, and both stood elegantly for the camera as if they somehow knew, this would be the last time I would see them both together.

THANKSGIVING | BE KIND TO OTHERS

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I find it comical that the very people who paint themselves as inclusive and a supporter of (insert your cause here) tend to be the biggest jerks out there. They virtual signal you, bash your work, then turn around and say they’re with you and your struggles as a minority. Heartbreaking when I hear the very people talk down on photographers who are just starting or aren’t in the same pedestal they believe to be sitting on. Perhaps it’s because academia tells them that if those who don’t have the same education as they do, then those who don’t fit the mold are inferior artists. While your own photos could be considered bad to these people, bare in mind photography as an art form is a subjective one. As artists we mustn't discourage others who have yet to find their why, their voice, the message and story they want to tell through their art. At any level in our career, I believe we have a moral obligation to reach out and help our fellow photographers and not see them as the competition. Considering academia perpetually promotes the snobby attitude attributed with the fine arts, we must support each other however small the gesture. Photography has a multitude of genres, some of which I don’t understand, but we can agree when we see beautiful work created by beautiful people. We have the freedom to express our opinions as to why we don’t like certain works in photography but if we do, I believe we must state why and not be quick to judge if we don’t immediately understand what we’re seeing.

Vincent Price Art Museum

I was fortunate my photographs went on display in the annual student art exhibit for the Vincent Price Museum this year. VPAM among other galleries, are what I consider to be the establishment, so far into themselves they lost the very mission they claim to stand on. To be frank, I despise both the museum and staff, not personally, but for what they claim to believe in. A few months ago they treated me as if I wasn’t cool enough to be a part of their show, even went as far as to make me feel unwelcome when ever I’d walk in to ask questions about the show. Not to mention they made no effort to promote the student art show. Worst of all still, was the day I came in to pick up my art work with my student ID. They gave me such a hard time because they wanted a California ID, speaking to me with a heavy, condescending demeanor after I mentioned I only have my school and Mexican ID. Most comical while waiting for my artwork to be brought from the basement, which I received damaged, was the group of students waiting for a tour to see an exhibit that promotes the struggles and oppression of immigrants and indigenous peoples, led by the very staff that treated me as a second class citizen for not having a California ID just minutes ago. Ironic, an immigrant from an indigenous tribe treated like shit by the very people who claim to be activists for my people.

Then there are the gear snobs. I believe it doesn't matter which medium you choose to take photos with, either film, digital, SLR or mirrorless, because labels are for cameras, not people. Let us appreciate photography for what it is, a way for us to connect with strangers, to build strong bonds with our friends, to have people fall in love themselves in our photos, to capture moments that slip through our very hands. If you’re a new photographer, use the camera you’re comfortable with. Don’t listen to people who act like children and talk down on your gear. If they don't like it, have them buy you a new camera, simple as that. No one obsesses over the tools people use to make our food, so why do we obsess over the tools photographers use?

Your camera should be and is an extension of you. Your camera is simply a precision tool. I’ve learned over the years, simplicity is key. Choose a one lens, one camera, one film stock combination to truly be a master at your craft. Someone once said, “to be a master, do the same thing a thousand times, not a thousand things one time.” Learn to hone the tools you have at hand, you’ll be surprised that as you grow as an artist, so will your tools. Yes, there will come a time when you will outgrow your current camera, but it will be because you have grown as an artist and not because your camera is deemed obsolete. If you learn to keep it simple, support local businesses that help our work shine, as well as other artists and vendors within our respective communities and continue to purchase American made products, i.e. Kodak film stock, together, we will keep our love of film alive for years to come. 

LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE | AN ODE

Downtown Los Angeles has gone through profound changes over the last thirteen years, and depending on your politics and socioeconomic status, you might see this as a good or bad shift towards the future ahead. The crusade to clean up Downtown L.A. in order to compete with the likes of New York City, began around 2005 by former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, dubbed The Rejuvenation Project of Downtown Los Angeles. I personally don’t agree with some of these changes, on account the storefronts I grew up with in the early to late 90’s, have been wiped into nothing. But it’s not the town itself or the aesthetic I disagree with. Yes I’m pro-business however, I reluctantly disagree with the new wave of businesses that displace longtime residents and business owners of years past. These new businesses have alienated those of us who’ve grown up here, those of us who have romanticize the idea of Downtown L.A., and those of us who once lived here.

To my knowledge, no publication pushes this alienation far more than Los Angeles Magazine. To quote the headline in the article, The New New Downtown, as seen in the 2017 July issue, “The revival of our once idle city kicked off about a decade ago and it’s only picking up pace.” If I’m to understand correctly, the writer Marielle Wakim (deputy editor), and in turn Los Angeles Magazine, are essentially saying Downtown L.A. did not exist until after 2007. Nor did my weekends spent with family walking up and down Broadway Blvd., browsing through its once crowed swap meets, in the aforementioned 90’s. The businesses that existed then are also irrelevant to the writer because she’s a transplant from Ohio and thinks that if an area isn’t on Instagram or is Hipster friendly, or on a travel blog, it plain out doesn’t exist. Mind you, I’m not against gentrification wholeheartedly, but it begs the question on whether or not the writers of Los Angeles Magazine care about our local culture. I question when the said writers publish articles stating they alone have discovered Los Angeles and its diverse neighborhoods. and adjacent areas, worse yet, even take a pretentious attitude towards it. While I’m not a native Angelino, a term I hate using by the way, however I’ve been here practically my whole life, and I’ve seen many changes since 1994, so I’m not going to sit here tell you I know everything there is to know about this town. 

Further proof Los Angeles Magazine doesn’t care about immigrants, small businesses and most importantly local culture, I’ll turn your attention to the 2017 November issue with the article, All Hail the Pastry King. The writer, Joel Stein, a self-proclaimed Angelino, admits to stalking and kissing ass to pastry Chef, Dominique Ansel, French immigrant and inventor of the coveted Cronut, in hopes of getting ‘special treatment,’ once his new bakery opened its doors in the winter of 2017 at The Grove. The writer is then appalled to learn Ansel doesn’t care who you are once you’re in his bakery, with a firm, no-cutting rule, as to provide equal hospitality to all guests. The writer closes off by saying, “no matter how good his food is, he’s never going to make it in this town.” To be clear, Joel Stein isn’t a true Angelino, he’s in fact a New Jersey native. Los Angeles Magazine, if you’re reading this, don’t hire transplants who claim to be L.A. natives, who then virtue signal us as to who’s going to make it in this town, and who’s not. I’m tired of you bastards claiming you know everything and everyone is this town and the constant stomping of those of us, who hustle in our local, respective communities on the daily. Then turn around and slander those who don’t fit your mold, to further promote your unwanted gentrifying agenda.

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I’m sure I can dig up further examples, however, I have since cancelled my subscription as of last year, on account the writers Los Angeles Magazine employ, seem to have limited views and experiences that don’t reflect those of us who have been here our entire lives. However, and you can quote me on this, I greatly appreciate the handful of new businesses that keep the old buildings they move into and take the daunting task of restoring them to their former glory. Downtown L.A. has stunning architecture from different eras scattered throughout. From 1994, to around 2006, Clifton’s Cafeteria was our go to place for a hearty, American comfort meal. It was the first restaurant I remember walking into upon arriving in this country at age five. A quick ride on the Metro Red Line from our apartment, as at that time, in the early 90’s, the Metro Red Line only went as far as MacArthur Park and Union Station. My family and I would eat here at least once a week, my parents would get me the tilapia filet with a side of rice and I’d get to pick my own gelatin for dessert, admiring how fast the cashier ladies would punch in the numbers on the cash registers. After a while, I started asking for the slice of ham with scalloped potatoes and a few slices of Texas Toast on the side, providing a much heartier satisfaction. As the years went by, Clifton’s laid forgotten through the ‘revitalization’ of Downtown that began in 2005. Then one day, it closed. Years later it reopened, with much anticipation on my part. Sadly however, it wasn’t the Clifton's I remembered. Though the new owners pianistically restored it to its former glory of the 1930’s, the food flat out sucked.

As did the new owners of Clifton’s, so have the owners of the Ace Hotel Building, formerly known as the Texaco Building; otherwise known as the Jesus Saves Building by locals. As a photographer, it makes my heart jump for joy when I see gorgeous, Art Deco architecture fully restored and beautifully presented. I appreciate how accessible Downtown has become over the years. I would say it’s mostly due to the MTA (public transit of L.A.) implementation of the light rail Metro Gold Line from Pasadena to Downtown as of 2003, and later with the 2009 East L.A. extension. I was living in Palmdale when the extension towards East L.A. was completed, irrelevant to me at the time. Who would of thought that a few years later, the Gold Line would become my main source of transportation when calling East L.A. my new home. I’m not completely against the changes Downtown L.A. is going through. I’m simply asking writers with a voice in a mainstream platform as well as new business owners of Downtown L.A., to promote the new while embracing the past. What do you miss of Downtown L.A. and if you were running things, what would you change, bring back or keep, do you agree or disagree with the changes?

THE ART OF STYLE | EVERYDAY LIFE

Art in everyday life, has a particular significance. It implies the belief that art may be so much a part of our daily life, that It’ll helps us to do the simple, homely things of life as well as the more unusual aspects, in a more beautiful and graceful way. As we surround ourselves with beauty, art becomes a part of our life and personality, not to be set apart for the occasional enjoyment however. Both beauty and art must be sought after and enjoyed in everything we do and in everything we select. As consumers, every time we make a purchase, however humble it may be, we’re consciously or unconsciously using our power to choose. Since art is involved in most of the objects seen and used in our everyday lives, one of the great needs of the consumer is knowledge of the principles of the fundamentals of good taste. Good taste, in the field of art, is the application of the principles of design to the problems in life where appearance as well as utility, is a consideration. With the development of our appreciation of these principles, the meaning of the term “principles of design” broadens and deepens. These principles should never be static. They should be regarded as flexible guides to be used in producing a desired result. It has been said that good taste is doing the right thing, unconsciously, at the right time and, in the right way. In the book Joseph Vance, Dr. Thorpe says, “I keep hoping for the development, in Joey, of the faculty of Good Taste…. It’s a quality of the inner soul, that gives a bias to the intellect.” Few people are born with this rare gift, but, fortunately for us, good taste in art can be acquired by applying the principles of beauty deliberately until the time is reached when the right thing is done, unconsciously.

- Art in Everyday Life, 1925

DÍA DE MUERTOS | OAXACA, MÉXICO

When I think of death, I recall Professor Dumbledore’s wise words, “death, is but the next great adventure,” and because of this and given the emotional roller coaster we get ourselves in, we cope with death differently from one person to the next. Due to my upbringing lacking any sort of hugs or even the words, I love you, my Mother set a standard on remaining neutral in severe situations. Specifically, during someone’s passing, for the sole purpose of being a much-needed pillar for those coping with death. I’ve had a handful of relatives pass away in the years I’ve been around, starting with my Great Grandfather around 2008, followed by a Great Uncle and Great Grandmother. Three years ago, my Uncle, then an Auntie a few months ago and well, guess you can say I’ve become well aware of my own mortality far more than I ever have. Perhaps because death is ever so closer with each passing. 

Día de Muertos, a national holiday observed on the second of November, has been a staple my family has observed for as long as we’ve been around. I’m no expert, but from what I know, El Día de Muertos has its origins heavily rooted in Pre-Hispanic times. Where native peoples baked human shapes out of Amaranthus and covered them with juice of the tuna (prickly pear), to symbolize blood. Surprisingly however, not much is done on the actual holiday, assuming you’re in Oaxaca. As the city of Oaxaca shuts down and believe it or not, we do nothing throughout the day, since it’s a day to spend at home with your love ones. The majority of events and celebration of the holiday take place on the latter weeks of October with the main event, if you happen to live within the capital, take place on the thirty first of October at the Mictlancihuatl cemetery in the town of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán. Fifteen minutes south of Downtown Oaxaca, the Mictlancihuatl cemetery hosts a wake the night of October thirty first, to symbolize and welcome our passed loved ones from the netherworld. My aforementioned Great Uncle is buried here.

The best part of the holiday, aside from the comparsas (parade) throughout the city and the free Mezcal, is of course the food, and the altar my Grandmother puts together in the spare room of her house two weeks prior from the second of November. To my surprise, my Grandmother had the foresight to plant marigold flowers at the plot of land we own close to the town of Zaachila. The altar is additionally decorated with photos of our passed loved ones, together with an abundance of marigold flowers or as we call them, Flor de Muerto. Other adornments include Pan de Muerto, Mezcal, fruits, nuts and as the day gets closer, tamales de frijol, tamales de mole and other dishes our passed loved ones enjoyed when they were alive. About a week before the second of November, the grave site of both my Grandfather and Uncle, they share the same site, is decorated with the same adornments found on our altar. The cemetery where both my Grandfather and Uncle are buried is located a few minutes away from Downtown Oaxaca, and like the Mictlancihuatl cemetery which hosts the wake on the thirty first of October, the San Juan cemetery hosts its wake during the day, on November first. 

Located on the outskirts of downtown Oaxaca, the Panteón General serves as the resting place for the city’s eldest of residents, some going as far back as the 1800’s and some with unmarked graves. I must say, it’s one of the most beautiful cemeteries I’ve seen and well worth a visit while in Oaxaca. I learned a family cousin works at the at this cemeteryas a care taker, we didn’t not see him the day when we stopped by however. After I snapped a few photos of the cemetery, my Mom, cousin and I, decided to walk to El Zocalo for ice cream. As we walked on the sidewalk I noticed there was no shade, so I suggested we cross the street on the shaded side. As we walked, we heard a loud crash and saw a trailer hauling giant pipes, hit a palm tree, drag it, pulled power cables in its path, blowing out a transformer, causing it to fall to the ground, sending sparks everywhere. Needless to say, the truck driver did not stop, leaving serious damage behind him. We realized after the shock faded, the transformer the truck hit, would of been right above us had we not crossed the street.