In 1972, in a commercial space in the Cacho neighborhood in Tijuana, my parents founded Venegas Fine Photography. Their studio offered novel services, such as color photography, made with a medium- format Hasselblad camera, and, finally, the delivery of a wedding album that chronicled the milestone event in its entirety. For all these innovations, my parent’s brand became a form of identification for Tijuana’s nascent upper middle class.
Years before, my mother, Julia Edith, had encouraged her husband, José Luis, to study photography by correspondence through the Famous Photographers School, where Alfred Eisenstaedt, Richard Avedon, and Irving Penn taught. A key part of the school’s philosophy was that students pay for the course through their photographic work. The couple moved from Tijuana to Los Angeles, in 1967, and José Luis began to work for Alfred & Fabris Studios, where he learned a method of documenting weddings through twenty-five pivotal moments, from the bride’s final preparations before the mirror, to the newlyweds driving off, leaving the celebration behind.
The Tijuana subjects seen in my parents’ archive—much like my father himself— collectively believed in and bestowed power on ritual, placing love as the linchpin of their coming together. But their identity was being formed by what destiny had given them: they were a community coming into their own on the border of the United States. Tijuana citizens were having their children on the other side;, men and women were marrying people from the United States. My parents bought materials, developed their film, and printed their work in California. They, and emulated the poses and tropes of wedding documentation that had been taught to them invented by a U.S. company.
Now, as I work with these photographs in from my Mexico City studio, I see how this archive excludes one of the most essential aspects of any border experience: vulnerability. The line between skill and error is a latent space, where things transpire that fit neither of the two extremes, but that are also a part of the story. Ambiguity, unplanned gestures, strained bodies in the process of understanding themselves as spectacle, all of them necessary in order to speak of a border identity. Given all this, I believe it is essential to reformulate my parents’ archive to allow the more vulnerable moments their due attention, salvaging the images that weren’t ultimately used in the official wedding albums. The essential function of photographs has always been to preserve one’s image for posterity’s sake. Expressions of our fragility, or that which makes us perishable, lend something important to the way we are depicted.
Text as appeared in the Aperture Magazine issue 236, dedicated to Mexico City (fall 2019) with a portfolio of this work.