Xiomáro is luckier than most creatives. He was born and raised by creative professionals. And in a sense Xiomáro's environment -- was an incubator. It was designed to support the successful development of a professional photographer. But the goal of being a professional photographer was neither straight or intentional. Nor was it a goal.
Our parents influence our choices, our direction and ultimately our disposition. You came from an artistic upbringing -- your uncle was an artist (a painter) and your father was a cabinet maker (focusing on 18th and 19th century styles). Highly technical work. Did that artistic upbringing affect what you photograph today?
It did. Growing up, I was frequently drawing, painting or playing a musical instrument. I worked at my father's shop and, because he also had a background in electronics, we often collaborated on designing and building things that we could not afford or thought we could make better - guitars, synthesizers, a large painting easel. In lieu of paints and brushes, the camera is the tool I use now to create images and I am drawn to historical buildings. I appreciate and am very comfortable with the craftsmanship, furnishings and artwork within these structures.
You had an "ah ha" moment while you performed with your band at those coffeehouses. You realized that photography could be another creative outlet. Explain that moment.
Before photography, I performed throughout the Northeast with a back-up band. We played well enough that one of my songs made it to the Top 40 of American Idol Underground, the internet version of the TV show. It was important to keep the momentum going by posting promotional images from the concerts because social media was just starting to happen. So I bought a small point-and-shoot camera for this purpose and practiced by photographing flowers, butterflies and landscapes. It occurred to me that I should exhibit these decorative photographs at my concerts and, to my surprise, they generated a lot of interest and comments from the audience. The photographs often outsold my CDs. That's when I realized that, like my guitar or voice, I could use the camera as another tool for artistic expression.
Then something horrible happened -- you contracted cancer. Thankfully you recovered. The experience was cathartic -- it reshaped your perspective. But the camera allowed you to find a peaceful solitude. Walk me through that journey.
The possibility of imminent death reshuffles priorities and the gift of recovery was the chance to start a new life. My family travelled to Utah and I got to do a lot of thinking as I wandered off in Arches National Park with my little point-and-shoot. Afterwards, I realized that I was able to quickly create, exhibit and sell the images from that trip because I was in sole charge of the process. With music, I was always held back by one or more band members who were not ready to live the artistic life. So I left music, I upgraded my camera, and took on the pseudonym "Xiomáro" (SEE-oh-MAH-ro), which acknowledges my family's roots in Spain and the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa - and which literally means "ready for battle."
And now, your professional photography career is keeping you very busy. You have been commissioned by the U.S. National Park Service, a number of times. Your most recent commission was the Theodore Roosevelt's stately home in Sagamore Hill. Tell me about that shoot and why was it important to you.
TR is an iconic U.S. president who is known around the world and I was granted full access to his 22 room mansion, which doubled as his Whitehouse. That freedom enabled me to photograph a close-up of the wallpaper that revealed a pattern of peacocks not previously known even by the museum specialists. Furthermore, the shoot was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because the house was being emptied for renovations. So the house is closed to the general public and - apart from my photographs - the rooms have never been seen in a near vacant state. The photographs will be exhibited at Harvard University in 2014 and the school is inviting filmmaker Ken Burns to speak in tandem with his new PBS documentary next year about TR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt.
You mentioned to me that getting commissioned is hard work. What advice can you give those young Latino photographers who want to follow in your footsteps?
We are living in a camera culture because everyone has one in their cell phone. Over 300 million images are uploaded daily on Facebook alone. Everyone's a "photographer", but few are artists. And even among artists, it takes a lot more vision to create a body of work that stands out from the sea of images bombarding the public. So be prepared to work harder than you ever thought possible and to be very self-critical of your artistic output. My name reminds me every day that I must be ready for battle.
The Call To Action
There are moments in our lives that test us. And there are those moments that place our very own survival into question. And what you do. How you accept those moments -- is a personal choice. You can let it kill you. Or you can accept it and chose to overcome. ------ Xiomáro has asked Latinos Behind The Lens to give special thanks to Bill Urbin. So with a warm-heart we thank-you Bill.