Al Rendon was born to document his culture. As a boy, he took special interest in family snapshots. The first professional camera he used was the 35mm Nikon Nikkormat from the photography department at Central Catholic High School in San Antonio. He documented many high school activities – sports, dances, clubs, etcetera – learning the basics of his trade.
By the time he reached 16, the camera was constantly in his hand: part of his body, taking pictures came as naturally as breathing. When he went to his first rock concert – Led Zeppelin – security stopped him because of his camera. Eventually, he established a relationship with disc jockeys at the local top-40 station, then promoters of the rock concerts traveling through San Antonio in the mid-1970s. His first art series covers those concerts with timeless photographs of Led Zepplin, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Cheap Trick and the other stars of post-Sixties rock.
“Those rock concerts gave me an education in photography. First, I had to learn how to work with and persuade people as I convinced promoters, managers and security officers to let me bring my camera in. Then, I had to learn how to catch a pivotal moment in a performance that was only going to happen that night. It was exciting, and a young rock fan’s dream to cover those concerts,” Al says. He continued shooting concerts for nearly 20 years.
After high school, since there was no university degree program in photography in San Antonio at that time, Al spent three years working with Willis Lee at Pictorial Services, one of the city’s best photo labs. “I custom printed everything from 8x10s to wall-sized murals, I learned photo quality from one of the masters. By seeing the work of the leading photographers in the city, I learned what the business of photography looked like.” When Lee closed the business, Al struck out on his own, building his business in San Antonio, working for public relations and commercial clients. He bought a house in the Manhcke Park neighborhood and offered custom lab services in addition to his p.r. assignments.
In the early 1980s, Al established a relationship with the San Antonio Convention & Visitors’ Bureau. Al was designated as the official photographer for the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Later, he would serve a similar role with the Fiesta Commission. Kathy Vargas included some of his images in a La Virgen de Guadalupe exhibit and referred him for Influences, an exhibit at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
His role with the Bureau, the Guadalupe and the Fiesta Commission gave Al access and a reason to capture San Antonio at its brightest as he covered events and photographed historic landmarks. He covered the first Conjunto festivals for the Guadalupe, leading to a solo exhibit, Puro Conjunto, at the cultural center. His photographs were featured in A Century of Fiesta in San Antonio by Jack Maguire, published by Eakin Press in 1991.
The Archdiocese of San Antonio asked Al to document Pope John Paul II’s visit to San Antonio in 1987. Al’s unique access produced excellent images that would be exhibited at Centro Cultural Azltán on the 10th anniversary of the momentous event in State of Grace: 1987 Papal Mass in San Antonio.
The first year he covered Fiesta, Al traveled out to the San Antonio Charreada arena, and discovered parts of his culture he had never known before. He ended up returning for years and becoming part of the Charreada “family.” In 2002, the University of North Texas Press published Charreada, Mexican Rodeo in Texas, a book of Al’s Charreada photographs edited by Francis E. Abernethy. His Charreada exhibit and presentation, The Art of Charreada, has been featured at throughout Texas, in San Jose, California, and the Southwest.
Al Rendon’s studio is housed in a historic (1892) building in San Antonio’s “SouthTown” arts district. We have renovated the building for mixed-use, and it serves as Al’s commercial studio, exhibition space for his art photography and residence for Al and his wife, Liz, and his brother, Gerard Rendon.
Al’s interests have also included several conceptual series. Fragile, Romance… was a collection of flower images accompanied by a poem by gary s. whitford. The collection, which “tells the truth about love” appeared at San Antonio’s Central Library in 1996. Al and gary collaborated again in a series of angels that was eventually exhibited as Angels, Devils & Saints at Las Mañitas in Austin, Texas. His cultural series include La Virgen, La Cultura Trasciende Fronteras (Witte Museum, September 2008), Retratos ·(St. Philips College FotoSeptiembre San Antonio September 2010) and several other exhibits and publications.
Al’s work has been added to the permanent collections at The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Wittliff Collection at Texas State University, San Marcos, the Witte Museum of San Antonio, the AT&T Center, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Southeast Baptist Hospital and the John Cleary Collection of Houston, as well as the private collections of Joe Diaz, Strasburger & Price, Susan Toomey Frost and Henry R Muñoz III. Currently, Al and gary are producing a new series of Retratos, based on “people who shape the culture in San Antonio.” The series is published on The Rivard Report news website, and became an exhibit in 2015.
Al Rendon operated fine art galleries in San Antonio from 1996 – 2013.