Photographer’s love of his culture informs his art
By CAMERON DODD
FAR WEST TEXAS – Mexican-American photographer Joel Salcido was born in Juarez and raised with one foot on either side of the border. A former El Paso Times photographer, Salcido has spent his decades-long career capturing the colors, flavor and landscapes of his Mexican and Texan cultures.
Work from Salcido’s photography series and new book, “The Spirit of Tequila,” will be on exhibit at this year’s Texas Agave Festival in Marfa on Friday, June 2, at the Hotel Paisano Greasewood Gallery.
Salcido has been immersed in the world of tequila, and by extension agave, for years. A chance meeting in 2012 with the master distiller and plant manager for Don Julio tequila sent Salcido on a years-long photo project to document the rich, colorful and largely unknown (outside of Mexico) world of tequila production. The project took him to across the Mexican state of Jalisco and deep into historic research.
Agave is at the heart of the production, culture and history of tequila. Indigenous people in what is now Mexico and Central America relied on the plant for food, hydration and clothing. It became symbolic in the indigenous religions on the region.
“It’s a very ancient heritage based on indigenous cultures that started using the agave for subsistence, for survival really,” Salcido said. “It was a food source, it was a clothing source, it was a very utilitarian plant for them. So much so that in the Aztec culture it becomes their goddess of fertility. So it has very deep roots.”
An initial 2012 visit to the Don Julio distillery in the Jalisco state community of Tequila opened up the historically and culturally rich world to Salcido and inspired him to work on a book-length photo project on tequila.
“I spent two days with Tequila Don Julio. They were really generous, showing me around. But at the end of it, I thought there just wasn’t enough here, I gotta hit the road,” Salcido said. “So that’s what I did. I just ended up running around the highlands and lowlands of Tequila, documenting as much as I could within my time frame.”
Salcido returned to Austin and edited the photographs. He pitched Don Julio on sponsoring a travelling exhibit of the pictures he’d made and in 2013 he premiered the series in a show at the Marfa Big Bend Sentinel newsroom. In November that year a package of the tequila photographs appeared in Texas Monthly.
Salcido tried to strike a balance between the automated, mass production tequilarias and the artisanal, handcrafted small batch tequilarias, he said.
“If you look at the body of work… I’m not highlighting any one specific brand,” Salcido said. “It’s about the world of tequila and its heritage, and the legacy and the culture of Tequila and the towns that surround it.”
The series traces the production of tequila from the wide fields of blue agave plants to the harvest and cooking of the agaze cores through the wooden casks of the distilleries. The Texas Monthly package even included a photograph of a neatly poured tequila shot, garnished with a lime wedge, captured at Marfa’s own Lost Horse Saloon.
Salcido has expanded the “Spirit of Tequila” series since its 2013 run. The series now includes photos from two additional trips Salcido made to Jalisco in 2016.
Salcido’s vision for a tequila photography book is coming to fruition as well. The 128-page “Spirit of Tequila” will be published by Trinity University Press in November, and an image from the collection was selected for the poster for 2017’s Texas Book Festival at the state capitol in Austin.
The same photo, which shows the sun setting behind a pitayo cactus growing over a field of blue agave plants, was also inducted into the Mexican National Art Heritage Collection.
“That was very rewarding and special for me as a Mexican to come back to the core, to Mexico city and get acknowledge by this induction,” Salcido said. “That’s a huge reward.”
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