New Book from Austin-based Photographer Roj Rodriguez Honors His Vibrant Mexican Heritage
William Hanhausen, passionate advocate and collector of Latino art, highlights the significance of Rodriquez's photographs
This past year, Austin-based Roj Rodriguez published Mi Sangre — the photographer’s first major body of work and an artistic dedication to his Mexican heritage. Published by Hanje Cantz, the book is a black-and-white photographic documentation of Mexican culture on both sides of the border, with images of childhood memories, religious iconography, family moments, and more.
The tome also includes contributions from notable figures in Latin American history such as Henry Cisneros, Cheech Marin, and Dolores Huerta, and it has been highlighted in The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review.
Rodriguez, who hails from Houston originally, has been making an impact on the Texas photography scene. Images from Mi Sangre have been shown at Austin Community College, where Rodriguez delivered a talk about Mexican culture, and Houston’s edgy Silver Street Studios.
To illustrate the significance of Mi Sangre and the importance of Latino art, we talked to writer, curator and collector William Hanhausen — whose collection prominently features Rodriguez.
William Hanhausen: After spending over half of my life in the United States, I wholeheartedly consider myself both a Latino and Chicano, as well as a passionate advocate for Latino art. My collection is carefully curated, emphasizing its apolitical, academic and richly deep narrative elements. I seek out artists who master their techniques, effectively communicate their stories and convey a compelling message. I appreciate their work based on its merit.
Latino art is about people, expressions and a reflection of social realism. Over the course of nearly 250 years, since the birth of the United States, we’ve often overlooked the significance of Hispanic history. In recent times, there’s been a growing awareness of the cultural complexity rooted in the country’s Latin-American heritage.
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Roj Rodriguez. I was truly captivated by his remarkable approach to reconnecting with and rekindling respect for our culture.
In Mi Sangre, Rodriguez brings to life his own idea of “México Profundo,” or Mexico’s Deepness, through a visual documentation of personal journeys to trace his heritage. He takes an aesthetic approach to celebrate the everyday aspects of Mexican culture and iconography, both in Mexico and as they are reinterpreted by Mexican Americans.
“I want to demonstrate that it’s not only the technique that makes a good photograph in any given situation, but one’s personal connection to the subject matter,” Rodriguez notes. “I wanted to get to know (the subjects) intimately so that I could portray their character justly.
“A portrait is an interaction with someone in that moment and what was shared at the table together.”
In Mi Sangre, Rodriguez explores parts of the United States where Mexican Americans have built communities for generations, preceding the drawing of the US-Mexico border. These are places where they have left their mark and become an integral part of America’s identity. Simultaneously, he delves into the regions of Mexico where his family’s roots lie, capturing powerful stories and images from his childhood and preserving his family legacy.
The hardworking people, the young and the old, their endurance, celebrations and pride all contribute to his enriched perspective.
“This journey sparked a greater appreciation and respect for other cultures, as well as a deeper understanding of the immigrant experience,” Rodriguez says.
Images from Mi Sangre have received recognition from and been shown at esteemed institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the San Antonio Museum of Art; LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Los Angeles; the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago; the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos.
Rodriguez’s work possesses a universal appeal. It captivates those of us who seek to share in a positive human experience that transcends cultural boundaries. Roj Rodriguez’s work showcases both the familiar and the unexpected, inviting us to adopt new perspectives.
You can learn more about Roj Rodriguez and Mi Sangre at misangrebook.com.