Monday, October 24, 2011


Roosevelt High School Walkouts (1970) by Oscar Castillo

I've written about the Pacific Standard Time event plenty of times over the past few weeks, but I don't believe that I have clearly articulated its premise. Its purpose is to document the artists and aesthetic movements that flourished in the Los Angeles area from 1945 to 1980. This is a critically important task because many of the participants of the events under review are getting up in age. Opportunities to record this firsthand testimony are diminishing with each passing year.

And that's why I'm so happy to see Oscar Castillo's photographs on display in "Icons of the Invisible" at UCLA's Fowler Museum. Creating a visual record of the wild days of the Chicano movement, Castillo utilized a photojournalist style in witnessing the lives and environs of Los Angeles' Latino community, a large population that was overlooked and disenfranchised by the various civic institutions, be it political or economic or artistic. In spite of its size and history as an integral part of the city, Latinos were "invisible" to mainstream society, relegated to the barrio.

Refusing to let these people slip away into a forgotten past, Castillo captured the moment through his camera, furnishing evidence of the turbulent era, a time when the downtrodden Chicano culture refused to quietly abide the cruelties of society, defiant even in the face of overt police brutality. With evocative imagery and uncompromising verity, Castillo's photography testifies to the struggle for respect and recognition.

Chicana at Gage Ave. and Whittier Blvd., East Los Angeles (1972) by Oscar Castillo

Sadly, these photographs have become "invisible" themselves, known only to students of the era or enthusiasts of urban cultural photojournalism. "Icons of the Invisible" brings these images back into view, allowing us to give witness to the moment, perhaps recognizing foreshadowing and prophecies of the current state of Latino society in Southern California.

There have been accusations that the Pacific Standard Time events are merely regional boosterism. I find such accusations to be sorrowful displays of gross ignorance and cultural insensitivity. There are stories that need to be preserved and remembered by the community. Los Angeles culture didn't pop out of the head of the New York art scene fully formed.

'47 Chevy in Wilmington, California (1972) by Oscar Castillo

It's difficult to encapsulate the spirit of Los Angeles art, but a critically important aspect is how it relates to the local Latino culture. Castillo's photography is one piece of the puzzle that forms a picture of Chicano social engagement. This show serves an important function in revisiting these images and witnessing anew the roots of contemporary Latino identity.

Here's an hour long vid in which Oscar Castillo talks about his photography and the era that they document.


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