This photo of Vincent Valdez is one that I’ve never before exhibited or published.
Vincent is an internationally known painter now, but he grew up here, on the south side of San Antonio, and was already painting when he was just nine years old. Back then, Alex Rubio had Vincent working with him on murals.
I met Vincent when he won a poster contest for the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, and I photographed him with his poster. I’ve followed his career ever since.
The painting in this photo is called ‘The City I’ and is in the collection of the Blanton Museum in Austin. It is huge, both physically and in its impact. It’s a four-panel canvas that portrays a group in Ku Klux Klan robes, on a bluff overlooking a city at night. It was painted in 2015 and 2016.
I visited Vincent in his studio when he was still working on it. I got a call from Eduardo Diaz, director of the Smithsonian Latino Center, in August of 2016. He was in town and planning to see Vincent, and he invited me to come along. He said that Vincent was working on something that was interesting and important, and I should document it.
When I walked into the studio, I was amazed — seeing these huge panels and so much detail in each of them.
I set up a tripod and started taking photos as Eduardo talked to Vincent and Vincent continued to add paint to the details.
I was using available light, and I didn’t want to push the ISO and get a grainy shot, so I used a relatively slow shutter speed. As a result, many of the shots were blurred.
But for this shot, Vincent had paused to think for a minute — he often thinks a bit before he answers a question — and I caught the moment.
Many of my photos are sepia or black and white, but this one worked best in color. Vincent’s painting dominates the shot, and he and his paint palette almost become part of it, but the color picks them out.