The route from family photos to your artwork being collected by the National Portrait Gallery is not a direct line. In this phase of my career, I am looking back, going through my family archive and nearly 40 years of professional work to find milestone photos and tell the stories behind the images. These “FotoHistorias” will be sent to friends, family and patrons on a periodic schedule as I find them.
In 1969, Hemisfair had just concluded and one of the biggest events in the city was the filming of Viva Max! a film based on Jim Lehrer’s imaginative story about Mexican troops coming to reclaim the Alamo. I was 12, a sixth grader at St. Mary’s Parochial School in downtown San Antonio, and the presence of a film crew with helicopters and movie stars (Jonathan Winters!) seemed to me to be an historic event that should be documented. My mother had documented all of the important family events with her camera, and I found great fascination in the process and celebration of photography.
Sixth grade boys at St. Mary’s regularly came to school on Saturdays for either Boy Scout meetings or to serve Mass as an Altar Boy. I was both. When I heard that “VivaMax!” would be filming one Saturday in April, I grabbed my Diana camera loaded with a 120 B&W roll film as I left for school. I had already “visited” the location once and obtained an autograph from Mr. Winters, who was a personal hero. It’s only a few blocks from St. Mary’s to the Alamo. As I walked up, they were rehearsing a scene between an American officer (Winters) and a Mexican officer (played by Peter Ustinov). When I noticed that the media was being allowed to move in close for photos I took a chance and moved in for a shot. I thought, “No one will pay attention to a 12-year-old boy,” and I was able to take two photographs of the scene before being shooed away by security. There was a crew and a helicopter in the way, but it became one of the first documentary photos in my collection.
I never lost the thrill that comes with shooting performing artists at work, and the confidence to carry a camera into a public performance space (where private cameras are not always welcome) has served me well throughout my career.