Cowboys, graffiti, and tattoos in Xavier Tavera's "Calle Lake"

Untitled by Xavier Tavera 
Untitled by Xavier Tavera 

From 1997 to 2000, photographer Wing Young Huie endeavored to photograph the six-mile length of Minneapolis's Lake Street, often taking shots of the people of color and people from immigrant communities who live and work along the street. Huie eventually displayed the photographs in store windows, bus stops, buses, and abandoned buildings along the same area in one of the largest public art projects the city has ever seen. In doing so, he highlighted the diversity of people who often go unseen and unnoticed.

In some ways, Xavier Tavera's recent exhibition at Augsburg College, "Calle Lake," is a jump-off of Huie's monumental project. While it's not on the grand scale of the "Lake Street, USA" (and Tavera uses color rather than black-and-white photography), he does capture the stories and the character in a way that is reminiscent of Huie's earlier work. 

Untitled by Xavier Tavera 
Untitled by Xavier Tavera 

Tavera's photographs are filled with vibrant colors. There's a sense of festivity to each scene, even when they point to situations where people are living in poverty and strife. In the images, a piece of graffiti becomes ornate, and a random red stripe on a wall becomes a deliberate decoration. 

Like Huie, Tavera tells stories of immigrant and poor communities through his photographs. In the case of Tavera, he focuses specifically on the Latino community. While Tavera doesn't attempt to define what the Latino community "is," he offers an array of images that show the colors, textures, and fashion of such a diverse community. 

In one photograph, a man in a cap and worn T-shirt stands in front of a dirty garage door with his son, who is wearing a harness attached to a leash that the father holds onto. There is trash on the gravel, and one of the windows of the door is cracked. However, with his inquisitive smile there's a hopeful look to the boy, and the father seems proud and protective of his son. Like many of Tavera's photographs, the shot doesn't tell the whole story. We don't know why this child is wearing a harness, or even what they are doing on this particular day, but it gives a glimpse into the character of these two people, and of a kind of resilience that is striking.
Untitled by Xavier Tavera 
Untitled by Xavier Tavera 

Another photograph depicts a young man in a black suit and bright shirt and tie, holding his guitar in front of a brick wall that is painted gray with red stripes. The man has an earnest, serene expression, with his chin lifted. He's slightly confrontational in his gaze, but not in a scary kind of way. He is proud, and standing his ground in the small space of earth on which he stands.  

There are a couple of themes that emerge in the exhibition: beauty-pageant contestants, cowboys, graffiti, tattoos, and a sense of defiance -- whether it be from the unassuming young woman holding a very lethal looking toy gun or a young man in orange poncho, feathered chaps, and bandana. There's a sense of costume; of putting on. Are these their real clothes, or are they putting on a stereotypical identity? Or perhaps a bit of both? 

While there are less than a dozen photographs in the "Calle Lake" exhibition, the small number of images carries a wide variety of looks into the Latino community on Lake Street. The artist's keen eye for color and knack for capturing what is intriguing about each of his subjects begs for a larger continuation of the project. 


"Calle Lake"
Through March 14
Christensen Center Art Gallery
Augsburg College, 22nd Avenue South at 7-½ Street, Minneapolis

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Christensen Center, Augsburg College

2211 Riverside Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55454


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