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Life in the Barrio

Groom Toss, 1993 Dancers with Large Black Hat, 2000 Leti & Mario, 1994

As I abandoned photographing La Raza, I also abandoned my documentary pretensions and assumptions. It seemed preposterous to me that I could ever say anything authoritatively about my subjects or the culture as a whole. Their experience wasn’t my experience—I could understand aspects of it, but I couldn’t speak for it. What I did know was that there are some places, not many, that have a kind of gravitational pull, and I wanted to make pictures as close to the center as possible. It was at this point that the community opened up for me. I photographed on and off the street, letting the rhythm of each day dictate what I saw, trusting that I couldn’t take what the world wasn’t willing to give.

In 1994, I received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. I moved to the middle of the neighborhood (18th Place and Paulina) for a year, and the work spiraled inward. Though Pilsen was only about a square mile and Little Village not much larger, I would go for days without leaving my block. My son, Max, was born in May 1995, and I brought him and Anne, my wife, back the following two summers. Anne, who is an artist, painted, and I photographed, while Lupe and Sonia, sisters of my good friend Victor (Webek), looked after Max in the afternoon.