Billy Calzada’s “Cowboys at Breakfast” is part of the "¡Puro San Antonio!" exhibit, running in conjunction with Fotoseptiembre. Courtesy image
Photographer and Latvian native Natalia Sun lived in South Florida for 16 years before moving to San Antonio two years ago. She had been a graphic designer in Florida, expanding her artistic skills following an education in art history and world cultures.
"Upon my arrival, I immediately became intrigued by a very unique and eclectic cultural vibe in the city," Sun recalled. "I kept meeting so many people from Mexico and getting introductions to a completely unexpected new world that seemed so vibrant with life and color."
Sun added: “For me, as being a bit more reserved as most Europeans are in their nature, Mexican flamboyancy and passionate expressionism through music, dance and art seemed so fascinating."
The celebration of Dia de los Muertos was one of those Mexican traditions that drew in Sun. She loved how the mysticism blended with creative colorful aspects, such as calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls), to symbolize cultural heritage.
"Being an artist at heart, I felt compelled to explore newly found interest through creating a personal series of my own Dia de los Muertos work," Sun said.
That work, and the works of five other San Antonio photographers delve into Mexican-American cultural traditions in "¡Puro San Antonio!" an exhibit that began on Aug. 27 at the Musical Bridges Around the World (MBAW) Gallery, 23705 Interstate 10 West, Suite 101.
An opening reception was scheduled for 5-7 p.m. Aug. 27, as the exhibit runs through Oct. 21 as part of the annual Fotoseptiembre USA event. Fotoseptiembre, now in its 22nd year, is a celebration of photography with more than 30 events planned across San Antonio, through September.
The related exhibits demonstrate skills of mainly local photographers.
Julya Jara, gallerist for MBAW, said her organization's mission is to unite, educate, and inspire through culturally diverse performing and visual arts programming.
"In our Fotoseptiembre exhibit we wanted to reflect our city's rich cultural heritage. So once we approved the theme within the team, being MBAW gallerist, I went out to scout for the content and that's how ‘¡Puro San Antonio!’ came to life," Jara said.
Sun’s work is being shown along with pieces by local journalism and commercial photographers Mark Sobhani, Billy Calzada, Darren Abate, Mark Greenberg and Josh Huskin.
For her contribution to this exhibit, Sun said she wanted to put a contemporary twist on the Dia de Los Muertos tradition by adding a high fashion element to it.
Natalia Sun’s “Mystical Brides” is part of the "¡Puro San Antonio!" exhibit, running in conjunction with Fotoseptiembre. Courtesy image
The result, "Mystical Brides," includes women adorned with glamorous hairstyles, sugar skull face paintings and elaborate bridal gowns.
"In reality it took longer to build the bride’s look than to photograph," Sun said. "I wanted my brides subjects to look and feel like museum paintings or works of art with mysterious stories that could only be told through the viewer’s imagination, as every different person in the audience would imagine their own tale."
Sobhani moved to San Antonio from Houston in 2000. Through his time as a staff photographer at the San Antonio Express-News, Sobhani saw the city on an intimate level.
"The term ‘¡Puro San Antonio!’ has some distinct imagery associated with it: mariachis, Fiesta, Catholicism, charreadas, hole-in-the-wall taquerias...but I think there's more to it than that," Sobhani said.
Sobhani, who now has his own photography business, also owns the local Mildfire Coffee Roasters with wife, Tricia, a San Antonio native. All of this time, Mark has come to see that the phrase "puro San Antonio" reflects a perfect mix of the very things that make Texas Texas, and Mexico Mexico.
"Not just the food, but the fusion of Texan culture with Mexican flare; San Antonio is ground zero for the two cultures meeting and mixing," Sobhani said. "And we are starting to see 'purr San Antonio' spread beyond the traditional ideas to other cultures, religions, etc. I've seen the 'puro San Antonio' influence in everything from Hindu weddings to soldiers' funerals to corporate events."
Jara said the exhibit "¡Puro San Antonio!" was put together with a focus on local photographers who have built a portfolio documenting life in San Antonio and the character and traditions of its people.
"We carefully selected photographs that would weave into the fabric of our story well - Fiesta, charreadas, cowboys, mariachi are among the subjects that are featured," she said.
Sobhani said this Fotoseptiembre exhibit is heavily influenced by the traditional ideas of what puro San Antonio means.
"While there may be a bit of overlap of imagery that shows that, there is a lot of individuality in the photos that set them all apart. I am eager to see what a show like this would look like in five years," he added.
Sun expressed that she looks forward to further exploring the San Antonio art scene and its vibrant style.
She explained: "There is an analogy that always comes to my mind when I try to describe the city to those who don’t know or understand it at first glance: You need to know the magical phrase from 'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves' story of 'One Thousand and One Nights' - open sesame!"
She added: "Then this city will open up like a mouth of a secret cave in which “forty thieves” - in our case, San Antonio’s cultural mix of residents- have hidden a great treasure. You will be flabbergasted with what you’ll find. I love this city."
Visit www.fotoseptiembreusa.com and www.musicalbridges.org for more information.