I call myself a “Closet Latino”. For Altpick member and photographer, Bob Stevens, the Latin culture has played a pivotal part in his life. Growing up in LA, he remembers visiting Plaza de Los Angeles, the original square around which the city was built.
That immersive beginning led him to recognize a project potential in an article he read in the LA Times about a former gang member who left behind his previous life on the street and was fulfilling his dream of working in the entertainment/movie industry. A bold move into Hollywood that only a truly focused person can attempt with any hope of success. An inevitable move to contact an ex-gang member to pitch a project that may bring out more than the skeptic in someone not inclined to trust a stranger, let alone at times, a friend.
His name is Manny Jimenez. His talent agency is “Suspect Entertainment”. His why is to represent people who like him, had the look and the experience of “the gang life”. His clients are TV production and feature film projects with authentic looking types.
Can the anti-hero be the hero?
Bob contacted Manny and asked. Several meetings and conversations later, Manny accepted his proposal to document various friends and acquaintances of his. The concept involved an interview of the subjects during which they were asked to choose a place/location of personal significance to them, as well as an object that had great meaning.
Bob shot studio portraits, still life images of their belongings and environmental portraits at their chosen locations. The video “Los Ojos” shows behind the scenes footage of the shoot as well as interviews of the subjects on location and in the studio.
Intrigued by the compelling concept, we sat down with him for a series of questions burning to be asked.
Altpick: How challenging was it for you to break through any stereotypes before, during and after this shoot?
Bob: “I probably had the same ‘stereotypes’ in my mind as anyone else, since I grew up on the west side of LA, far away from their ‘hood’. As I began to interview potential candidates for this project and spend some time around them, I realized just how different I was, and that whatever hardships I might have had in my life paled by comparison.”
What is normal to you and me is shaped by our perception of normal in our environment. As Frank said in his interview, “people in East LA is bad but if you don’t know what ‘good’ is, then bad is just normal.”
Bob: “The ‘Los Ojos’ project made me realize how valuable my skills are when applied to telling ‘real’ stories, not just the ‘created’ ones I have shot while working in advertising. I feel that I matured as an artist in the process. I am eager to shoot more projects like this.”
The personal becomes very personal when you’re separated from your subject by only a camera. The focus is sharper. The stories are just this side of disbelief. The person is changed. In front of the lens and behind the lens.
The creator becomes the creation.