Artist-In-Residence: Chilean Photographer Camilo Jose Vergara

Chilean-born, New York-based writer, photographer Camilo Jose Vergara has been travelling across the US since 1970, photo documenting street portraits of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In his tribute. “The Dream Continues: Photographs of Martin Luther King Murals”. The viewer sees how the folk art portraits on neighborhood walls of car repair shops, alleyways, fast food restaurants, barbershops and the like, express how the inner-city residents saw the slain civil rights leader—at times a statesman, a hero, a visionary, or a martyr.

“Over time I became interested in learning why these images are so pervasive. I feel that they reflect a significant cultural phenomenon: the rise of Dr. King as a central moral figure in poor neighborhoods, and his elevation to secular sainthood as the savior of dispossessed African Americans. His varied representations, often based on photographs taken from the national media, express poor people’s perceptions.”  Camilo Vergara

Vargas noticed a consistent theme of the murals whether it be in a Latino, Native American or Asian neighborhood and that was that the portraits could take on the likeness of Latinos, Native Americans, or Asians depicting how the soul of the great civil rights leader reaches out to so many communities nation-wide.

Camilo Jose Vergara remarked about his work that “most murals and street portraits of Dr. King are ephemeral. Paint fades, businesses change hands and neighborhood demographics shift. Gradually, images reflecting the culture and values of poor communities are lost ….Often, my photographs are the only lasting record of these public works of art.”

The murals of Dr. King may fade away with the spoils of time, but King himself? His legacy, securely anchored in the souls, hearts and minds of humankind, will last for as long as there is progeny to pass the knowledge and practice of his great work and deeds on to. Amen to that.

See more murals here … Camilo Jose Vergara: Tracking Time


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