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Photographic Survey of Everyday Life of Hispanics in America

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In an ambitiously bold and provocative exhibition at the ornate former residence of the Spanish ambassadors to the United States, at 16th and Fuller Streets, NW, the work of 12 contemporary Latino photographers working in America was on display during spring of 2013. The exhibition was, in effect, a conversation on the appearance and reality of the lives of Hispanic, or Latino, residents living in many parts of urban America, primarily New York City and the large cities close to the border – -Miami, Los Angeles, and Houston.

Photograph by Héctor-Mata.

Photograph by Héctor-Mata.

And “border” is probably a good concept for one’s understanding of the major themes of this fascinating show, one that is part documentary, part satire, part symbolic and referential, and many parts conceptual.

Photograph by Gihan-Tubbeh

Photograph by Gihan-Tubbeh

The exhibition was most of all alive and full of vibrant and colorful images, especially of portraits; it projects both dramatically realistic narratives and puzzling enigmas, often in the same photograph or between photographs from the same fine arts photographer. And the borders or boundaries among photographic disciplines in these displayed works are as fluid as are the presentations of these Latinos in both their staged and everyday lives, a condition completely comparable to that of the non-Latino Americans with whom they are joined, these being both native-born and Latino immigrants living in the present day context of these dense urban areas of America.

The images of the photographers working in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens were among the strongest in the show.

Dulce Pinzon’s poignant and hilarious photographs of “super-heroes,” men and women working extraordinary hours in low-wage or marginal occupations in order to send home hundreds of dollars a week to families living in all parts of Mexico, capture the range of activities by these toilers in the service industries that keep New York bustling, from delivery boy to Times Square gigolo, all dressed in ridiculously garish but iconic comic strip outfits such as those worn by the Incredible Hulk, Superman, Cat Woman, and the Green Hornet.

Photograph by Stefan Ruiz.

Photograph by Stefan Ruiz.

Carlos Alvarez Montero’s terrific mock documentary photographs of 12 Latinos — all of whom are artists, designers, architects, and museum professionals — is offered with the provocative, in-your-face question of “you don’t look Mexican.”

The photographer known as Cale presents spectral, figurative images superimposed as ghost-like persons on urban landscapes; we don’t see them and they are not ready to be seen by us. Gihan Tubbeh’s photographs remind us that the diversity of New York City is such that so-called Latinos simply look like lots of New Yorkers, and the settings in which they are depicted could be found in any great American city — from Chicago to Boston to San Antonio or Denver.

Sol Aramendi’s work captures the glitzy and the gritty of everyday life in New York — though it could be that of any of America’s older cities — with an almost nostalgic eye as though she is capturing in her urban landscapes a passing phenomenon.

Photograph by Sol-Aramendi.

Photograph by Sol-Aramendi.

Leaving New York, Richard Casas brings us the strange wonderments of Miami, complete with the exhibition’s poster boy, a powerful evocation of a handsome young man clothed in a shinny latex Superman costume; the city could be characterized as surreal Latin America north.

Susan Raab’s photographic series is that of Houston, Texas as a Latino Rodeo and Carnival town; it could be Monterrey, Mexico. Ironically, Houston is one of the most diverse urban environments in America. Hector Matta’s Los Angeles is equally skewed to the Latino presence — which is admittedly powerful and continuing to exert greater power in the politics of Southern California; it also has far greater Hispanic roots than cities like Houston. And unlike Raab’s, Matta’s photographs are almost folkloric.

Returning northward toward New Jersey, Karen Miranda poses her portraits in either dreamlike scenes or encounters of heartbreaking melancholy — for example, a very young man trying to sell his best albums to his girlfriend to feed his addiction.

Photographer Katrina D’Autremont’s glorious enlargements of what could be snapshots of multi-generational family vacations — visiting the relatives in Buenos Aires — are not taken in an American city, although they very well could be.

Photograph by Katrina d'Autremont.

Photograph by Katrina d’Autremont.

The most beautiful portrait photographs in the exhibition were by Livia Corona; they include stunning formal presentations of Latino women, especially one of a Mexican-American park ranger at Denali National Park and another of a Peruvian financial services representative photographed at her home in Houston. Both women’s strong and beautiful facial expressions appear deeply thoughtful and questioning.

Concluding the show were several life-size portraits of stars on their telenovela (soap opera) sets at the great Televisa studios in Mexico City. Taken by Stefan Ruiz, these portraits are as grand as they are glamorous. Over the years Televisa has nurtured many soap opera stars who have gone on to become Hollywood stars — including Salma Hayek, Diego Luna, and Gael Garcia Bernal.

APR - SpanishEmbassyPhotoShow-pic6(Susana Raab)

Photograph by Susana Raab.