South Central Dallas is about an inner city urban area in social isolation. I was told not to go to there. There is a taboo; ordinary people stay away from that area, and the people who reside there seem to stay within their territory. The area is described as dangerous, both by residents and outsiders; it seems exotic. A place where the rules -to a certain extent - do not apply. It is a place that can be easily ignored.
This is a project about the people in this neighborhood, but also about me as an artist. It is about pushing my own limits, and pushing at others peoples' limits. This is a project that captures visual images depicting the results of a neighborhood being socially marginalized. I collaborated with individuals coming from a different lifestyle to learn about an inner city neighbor"hood" and take photographs of the personalities and characteristics that are the make-up of the community. My photographs depict people within this small community in relation to myself as the photographer.
There is a cultural difference between myself and the people within this community. The difference is coming from my middle class Hispanic view. I have been brought up strong in values, morals and respect. I grew up sheltered, never far from my mom or dad. This Dallas community is largely African American. It is an area that has a bad reputation associated with it. Outsiders label the area with a bad reputation; perhaps the label is from those outsiders who fall prey easily to individuals in the community who steal, sell drugs, and hurt others. Statistics show that this area known as South Dallas has high rates for crime, poverty, mortality, drop out rate, drugs and teen pregnancy that result from ineffective public policies. These are all ingredients that form people's attitudes, beliefs, morals and values within the community. It forms outsider's attitudes towards the area and creates an invisible barrier, a taboo, that keeps it in social isolation. I was told several times, " We get it how we live." It took me a while to understand the meaning of this. In other words, they are brought up surrounded by crime, that's all they know, and most of the time that's how they survive. This is an area unlike any I had ever visited, certainly not like any I had lived in.
I adapted to these new surroundings. I acquired an understanding of life as I had never seen it before. I convinced others well outside my own culture to believe, trust and accept me just as I learned to adapt, change and evolve. When I first arrived there I thought that I was in a vulnerable position when I first arrived there, but after seeing the images and studying the individuals and their surroundings, I feel that my subjects were the ones in a vulnerable position. It is the direct eye contact and body language my subjects use. It is the bluntness of some images-like the counterfeited money and note-that give hints of the characters in the neighborhood. It is the permission given to me to watch crack being whipped up on a stove, bagged and sold that puts others in a vulnerable position. But even in the midst of situations that we normally experience only as statistics or news, there is humanity.
My images are a body of work that looks at today and may be referenced in the future as a look back into the past. It will become a look back into the past, the way it was in a socially isolated community in the midst of a metroplex. These images will be as significant in a few years as they are today. In my work South Central Dallas, I carefully chose what to photograph and why. I did not focus on the condition of the environment even though there was a clear difference in its condition compared to the rest of the city. The work is about the people that are the make-up of the community. It is about the personality and the characteristics. Being a minority, I could relate in a different way than other artists have attempted to when trying to enter a subculture that is not their own. I faced discrimination problems while being in this area. They had preconceived notions of people with my skin color and how "we" were supposed to be. I would go places and overhear others around me say something referring to my presence. On several occasions I would hear somebody say, they could not speak spanish or they would talk to me, and I would interrupt their conversation and say neither do I. I would surprise them and at the same time embarrass them for having stereotypes about people of my color. Just as others have stereotypes about them, living in a ghetto and being African Americans.
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Many of the characters within the photographs refused to give me their names. Some people suspected that I was police, and felt more comfortable letting me photograph without having their names.