Downtown San Antonio in the early 1980s was just starting to become a major tourist destination. El Mercado was transitioning from a Westside farmer’s market into the internationally-renowned Mexican market we know today. People made once-in-a-lifetime trips to enjoy San Antonio’s friendly character and colorful culture, and locals would dress up for downtown visits.

It was still the early days of my photographic career. I had had a few exhibits, showing pictures that reflected mi cultura. I was drawn to images in the periphery of life, pictures of everyday San Antonians living their lives; fleeting images, scenes that that could go by unnoticed. But I made it my business to notice everything.

I was in El Mercado on assignment when this young vato came zipping up on his low-rider bike. This was long before low-rider bikes were mainstream cool. It was a spectacular bike, gold and dressed to the nines, with a chain link steering wheel for front-wheel spins and maximum maneuver potential. I really liked the bike, and asked if I could take his picture.

“Yes, but not with my bike,” he said. A little disappointed, I agreed. He crouched into this, what I could tell was his favorite pose. I’ve learned to never change someone’s practiced pose -it’s how they project their true personality. This was truly one proud vato.

These old pictures are important to me because I consider them building blocks. In the early years, I didn’t record names and dates –to my archival regret. But the pictures that came after –portraits, events, scenic, and personal– are all influenced by my younger formative years as a photographer, when I was still reacting more than planning, when my gaze was wide and my mind open to every possibility.

El Vato

© 2022 by Al Rendon

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Rendon Photography and Fine Art


733 S Alamo · San Antonio, Texas 78205

All photographs on this site are copyrighted by Al Rendon and may not be used without specific written permission. For information about prints or licensing, contact us directly. 

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