To close out this year’s Featured Artist series, Sacramento365 is proud to share the story of emerging photographer Andres Alvarez. While he may not be a household name (yet), his work should be loved by anyone who calls Sacramento home. Since moving to the River City, the artist has had a love affair exploring and revealing the beauty of the grid.
On a leisurely stroll through K Street, Alvarez mulled over his vast portfolio with us, sharing the hidden stories behind each photograph with eagerness and impressive recall. From coffee shop patrons to Golden 1 Center’s progress to the characters of K Street, his candid film and digital photos are meticulously composed, showcasing the heartbeat of Sacramento.
Read on to learn more about the man who captures the city we love.
Born to a family of six in the Central California town of Ripon, Alvarez spent much of his youth drawing, working seasonally on farms, and wrestling. Though seemingly unlikely, Alvarez credits the skills learned on the mat for preparing him for future passion: “my approach…when competing was defensive…it was all about observing and responding to the opponent’s movement. [L]ike sports, [photography]…requires a lot of mental and physical practice.”
His tertiary education brought him to Sacramento in 2003: “When deciding to go to college I chose Sacramento State. Sacramento was not too far from the family and still offered a change from [Ripon]. It was an exciting experience as a first-generation college student alone in a new place.” Although he had intentions of teaching art — especially after an unforgettable session with the members of the Royal Chicano Air Force — his worries about the sustainability of being a full-time artist caused him to shift his major to criminal justice.
For years, he worked as a probation aide, but worries over his family’s safety led him to a new career path.
Since that initial spark, Andres has taken to the streets, exploring what lies within his adopted city and inside his head: “photography became a way for me to reflect my thoughts, expose my habits, and discover what inspires me. My photographs are mirrors to my soul.”
In order to do so, he is putting techniques into practice with a number of self-imposed photo projects. Whether it’s cataloging Sacramento’s coffee culture, the Regional Transit system, or the construction around the Golden 1 Center, his photos show a fascination with the subtle quotidian interactions between people, places, and things. “People are obsessed with anything exotic to the point where they overlook their backyard. I’m interested in capturing the daily rhythm of Sacramento.” And some of that rhythm is cheeky; his sense of humor clearly seen through his choice of hashtags.
While he has a camera (Canon 5d Mark II with a 50 mm 1.4 f/s lens), most of his street photography is taken on his phone, for practical and conceptual reasons. “Smartphones are a modern way to take photos and allow me to take candid shots. I’m also relinquishing control a bit because I am exploring the technical limits of my phone (and photography).” In post-production, Alvarez uses apps Glaze and BeFunky to warp images into Impressionist-inspired micro-masterpieces.
Earlier this year, Alvarez held his first solo art show, Cara a Cara (Face to Face), at the Latino Center for Art and Culture, an organization near and dear to his heart. (Since 2011, Alvarez volunteers his time as the official event photographer for the cultural group.)
Born from a desire to expose the hardworking yet oft unknown Chicano and indigenous artists in the Sacramento region, the black and white portrait series showcases artists in their creative process without posing. “This was based on [photographer] Henri Cartier-Bresson‘s idea to [shoot a] person in their habitat in order to put the camera between a person’s ‘skin and shirt.’ The more relaxed and comfortable the artist, the better chance I had of capturing a more honest representation of the person in that moment.”
In every photo session, Alvarez learns valuable lessons in the business of art. “My weakness is marketing myself…by offering to shoot with artists, I build up my confidence and learn a few tips on how to make it as a creative. The common attributes shared among the artists? Hard work, commitment, and a passion for art. Their stories are a mirror and an inspiration to many Chicano and Indigenous youth.”
Cara a Cara will again be on display at Sierra College in 2017. Alvarez intends to continue the pet project in perpetuity in order to bring light to local artists of color.
What’s ahead for the photographer? Alvarez returned to school in April to pursue his teaching credentials. He hopes to teach his first artistic loves — drawing and painting — at the high school or community college level.
But street photography has by no means taken a back seat. “There is so much beauty in Sacramento…and the city continues to evolve each day. What is Sacramento? I’ll try to answer that will my photos for as long as I can.”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! There is no shortage of festive fun in Sacramento this season and this month Andres Alvarez shares these can’t miss holiday events with us.
We couldn’t leave these insightful tidbits on the cutting room floor.