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Meet Roberta Alvarado

Today we’d like to introduce you to Roberta Alvarado.

Roberta, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I took photography in high school and it became the fiber of who I am today. I would photograph powwows (with permission) following the drums with camera in hand. I became a young mother and like to say I traded my camera bag for a diaper bag. As my children grew and started their own creative endeavors the ache to start shooting grew stronger and stronger within me again. Curiously enough, my subject matter stayed much the same just more in-depth and took me farther from home.

As a teen, I was obsessed with photography and the darkroom and was hired by one of the few woman photographers in my area at the time, Deborah Goldstein. She took me under her wing and sent me on some great first assignments such as photographing Cleve Jones for the NAMES Project AIDS memorial quilt and Outstanding Women’s Awards which at 17 impacted my desire to document history.

One afternoon I received a message from a gentleman that was interested in using one of my photographs, “Old Well Café”, in the Paramount Picture “The Big Short”. That was a goal I didn’t know I had. He encouraged me to get back into shooting and to think bigger and delve deeper into my passion.

A great friend of mine invited me to her wedding in Nicaragua. I decided to turn it into a backpacking photo journey for which for 19 days, we traveled by plane, chickenbus, caponeras, and panga traveling West to East through places like historic Masaya to the Caribbean Little Corn Island.

I pride myself as a minimalist photographer and that allows me to be flexible and intuitive.

After that, I traveled through the Yucatan region of Mexico. As a Chicana born in Pico Rivera, it quickly became about using my photography to connect to my culture, what it means to be an American, and how interconnected Indigenous Americans throughout the continent really are. On an afternoon in the Yucatan, I was riding a bike to some caves I heard were nearby and I happened upon a cemetery with particularly small boxes. This led me on a journey to learn more about burial rituals uniquely Mayan. I returned later that same year for Hanal Pixan (the Mayan version of Dia de Los Muertos). It was during this time a family granted me the honor to photograph the excavation of a loved one who passed 6 years prior. They allowed me to photograph the intimate details that go into such traditions to keep the memories of loved ones alive. Last October, I had a solo exhibit called “Layers of Life in Death: Yucatan, Mexico” to share what I learned. My goal is to intrigue others to learn more about our thousands of years old complex culture, rich in honoring our ancestry, fused with changing times, yet remains strong.

Currently, I was invited by Casa de Espanol to have a solo exhibit for photography month in Sacramento, California. Because of our current pandemic, I pivoted the exhibit to an online virtual gallery video. I asked a fellow artist, Tomas Montoya, to collaborate with me on this project and create a breathtaking fusion of imagery and poetry to help bring the Nicaragua experience to life through the screen.

Being a night owl, I would send Tomas work as I finished it and he, a morning person, would write poetry inspired by what I had sent him the night before. It’s been a great way to get through the stresses brought on by all of this. I’m very proud of our results. The exhibit: “West to East: Travels through Nicaragua” runs April 11th – May 2020 and can be watched online at: www.CasadeEspanol.org

With prints available for purchase at: https://roberta-alvarado-photography.myshopify.com/

and livestream Q&A April 29th time tba.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Photography was very much a man’s profession then. I would be on assignment elbow to elbow with men twice my age that didn’t really take me seriously.

When pregnant, there was no information on how darkroom chemicals would affect my child’s health and knowing it couldn’t be good, I would stop working.

Photography is expensive. When I became a single mom of three, I couldn’t spend such money on what was not necessary. For this, I learned to work with what I had. It has served me well because it is exactly what has helped me travel with minimal equipment stuffed in one backpack that also holds all my clothes and toiletries on my trips. It helped me to be resourceful and actually more fearless.

Please tell us about Roberta Alvarado Photography.
Roberta Alvarado Photography is an act of passion many years in the making.

Whether it’s taking family portraits, covering events, or product photography, I aim for depth. I’m most proud of my ability to connect with people even when its a brief moment. You can see it in the eyes and in the comfort in their body language. I see photography as being melodic in the way one’s eye travels through an image.

I’m known for my culture photography and now Mayan burial rituals much of the world is unfamiliar with. I honor the sensitive subjects that I’m allowed to photograph by being unimposing and delivering it with the upmost care, beauty, and respect.

I want to intrigue people to look further and have questions. I want it to influence other Chicanos to delve into our Indigenous roots and gorgeously rich ancestry. I want others to appreciate that and want to take that same curiosity into their own culture as well. We all come from a wealth of traditions older than the US. It’s about honoring that and the strength in reconnecting. I feel that is good for our Earth as that often coincides with connecting more harmoniously with nature.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I would have believed in myself from the beginning and pursued it as an essential part of who I am.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Roberta Alvarado

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