Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer presents at Hispanic Heritage Program

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Photo by: Eleni Gotter

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer José Galvez spoke to FMU students at the Hispanic Heritage Month Program on Oct. 23.

Jasper Dewitt II, Staff Writer

Students and faculty sat in silence in the Lowrimore Auditorium on Thursday, Oct. 23 as Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer José Galvez captivated his audience with his story.

“I like to think of my story as a musician and his music,” Galvez said. “A musician may play the same song many times but give it a different twist to make it ring.”

Galvez inspired students at the Hispanic Heritage Program to follow their dreams and “shine.” For Galvez, the word “shine” does not only mean to excel. “Shine” means to serve one’s community, honor, illuminate, nurture and excel. It also describes Galvez’s life stories and his beginnings as a shoeshine boy.

Before Galvez became part of a successful Pulitzer Prize-winning team for the Los Angeles Times, he was a shoeshine boy in Tucson, AZ. His interest in photography and journalism was sparked after he carried his shoeshine box into the Arizona Daily Star building. Following his experience with the Arizona Daily Star, he bought his first camera at a local pawn shop.

“Before I bought my camera, there were no pictures of my family,” Galvez said. “The only one photo that I had at that time was a photo of my grandparents.”

Galvez’s personal interest in photography led him to major in journalism in college.

While Galvez was in high school, even talking about majoring in journalism in college was a big step. Galvez grew up in the barrios of Tucson, which was a Latino area dominated by poverty. No one from his father’s side, or his mother’s side of the family had ever graduated from college.

In addition to local cultural challenges, he also faced discouragement from his guidance counselor. When Galvez told his guidance counselor about his goal of becoming a photographic journalist, the guidance counselor told him that he was incapable of doing so. However, Galvez was determined to reach his goal.

“I had my mind made up,” Galvez said. “I told myself that I might be poor, but I’m going to make something out of myself because I got ganas.”

Galvez went on to major in journalism at the University of Arizona. Upon graduation he became a staff photographer at the Arizona Daily Star.

Galvez’s mentors at the Arizona Daily Star played a key role in helping Galvez to pursue his dream. Galvez shared that it was a big fight to put the Spanish community in the Arizona Daily Star.

“The Latino community was not considered news worthy topic,” Galvez said.

For over forty years since, Galvez has dedicated his life to recording and documenting the daily lives of Latinos across America. He is set apart from his colleagues by his use of black and white photographs. He believes black and white photographs have a dynamic quality which he finds lacking in digital photographs.

“Black and white film and film in general is more organic and artistic than digital,” Galvez said. “You have to get into a black and white picture to make it into something special.”

After working with the Arizona Daily Star, Galvez moved on to the Los Angeles Times, and he and his Latino American colleagues undertook a special series on Latino life in southern California. In 1984 the series won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.

Galvez left the LA Times to become the senior editor and contributor to Americanos, a media publication documenting Latino life in the United States. At the same time, Galvez had earned many other awards for his photography and had published his first book, “Vatos.”

“‘Vatos’ was surprisingly successful considering it was a blind start for me in the book world,” Galvez said.

Since ‘Vatos’ was published in 2000 it has been on the television show Lie to Me, and it has been honored by the American Library Association. The book is a tribute to Chicano men, Latino men, and all men everywhere. It includes a powerful synergy of Galvez’s photographs and the words of esteemed poet Luis Alberto Urrea.

Galvez’s most recent book is “Shine Boy.” It reiterates Galvez’s presentation and focuses on the personal experiences that Galvez had in his childhood. In the book there are exclusive photographs of Galvez’s home and the barrios of Tucson in which he grew up. When Galvez and his family moved to North Carolina in 2004 to photograph Hispanic immigration, there were many changes that Galvez had to get used to.

“When I first came to the south I was fascinated with all of the trees,” Galvez said. “Overall, it’s been real interesting photographing in the south.”

Galvez, along with his wife and son, has worked and traveled the state documenting Hispanics at work, play and worship. They also dedicate their lives to educating people of all ages and backgrounds about the Hispanic culture.

As Galvez came to the end of his presentation, his final words were intended to motivate everyone to work hard and strive for excellence.

“You need to work hard in order to shine,” Galvez said. “Shine does not come easy. Be who you are and be it well, and while you are at it, shine.”

Dr. Wendy Caldwell, associate professor of Spanish and coordinator of the modern languages-Spanish program, had praise for the presentation.

“The presentation was great,” Caldwell said. “It was a good opportunity for our students. Photography is a form of literature.”

Ben Watford, a junior, was personally touched by Galvez and his presentation. Before Watford became a student at Francis Marion, he was a sniper in the Army. Awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq, he has earned special benefits from the Veterans Administration and the State to attend college. Watford said that after being medically discharged from the military he did not know where he wanted to go or what wanted to do. After listening to Galvez, however, Watford has been encouraged to take photographs depicting his family’s Pembroke Indian heritage.

Before Galvez got on the road to go home, he visited Professor of Art Kathleen Pompe’s intermediate photography class. While he was there, he shared his expertise with the class and gave them an inside view into how he captures his photos. He also had a chance to view some of the photos that the photography majors had taken.

Once Galvez had finished viewing the photos and sharing professional advice, he said his final goodbyes, and got on the road again.

To learn more about José Galvez, visit his website: www.josegalvez.com.