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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

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