All the way from East LA College: VPAM, The Little Theater and Me

When I dove into photography on January 1st of 2010, hung over from a New Year’s Eve celebration, I could not have imagined that my work would show in a museum within the same decade. Maybe after a year of shooting I started to imagine that one day----maybe after I died----someone would sort through my work and present a show in my memory. All I could do to ensure that was to keep documenting like a madman.

Things seemed to snowball pretty quickly from that day forward. I stopped drinking. I kept shooting. I presented my own exhibits as much as I could. And now here we are in 2018 and my first museum show opens this Saturday at the Vincent Price Art Museum.

For this show titled, Rafael Cardenas: Backyard Tableaux, I worked with the staff at VPAM to select photos from a series  I shot in the summer of 2016. I asked anyone that was having a celebration in their backyard to allow me to come in and document the event. I wanted to explore that space that we hold so close in our memories. 

I shot all these events with the same 50mm Sigma and without flash. What resulted are images that carry the energy of that day forward. We are exhibiting nine images, scenes with colorful night lights and vibrant daytime colors. This is an ongoing series, one that I hope to add to for the rest of my photography life.

These images also take my work into a different direction. You will not see any of the black and whites that I am known for in this show. I hope to explore this color side of my work a lot more.

I was talking to a friend last week and he was telling me that my career as an artist actually started in the 90’s when I started to do theater. It was then that I started to grow out of being a neighborhood kid with no concept of a larger world and into a critical thinker. It was there on that corner of the campus of East LA College (where VPAM now stands) that the The Little Theater once stood. It was a tiny repurposed army bungalow.  My theatre training taught me how to think of three things that define a moment:

Where are you coming from?
What are you here to do?
Where are you going?

I try to share images that have a visual narrative of time and place. Theater taught me that. So it’s fitting that I am now having this show in the same corner of the world. Literally.

I hope that you can come out to opening night this Saturday April 28th from 5-7pm. If not you can check museum hours and visit the exhibit from this weekend till July 28th.

I want to thank Pilar Tompkins Rivas and the VPAM staff for their time and dedication in making this exhibit a reality. Shout out to ELAC theater and administration staff as well.