- Picturing the Barrio: Ten Chicano Photographers by David William Foster
David William Foster's Picturing the Barrio: Ten Chicano Photographers traces the work of premier Chicana/o/x visual artists. Organized thematically in three sections, part one, "The Barrio: A Chicano Anchor," discusses photographs related to urban Chicana/o/x life focusing on the work of Ricardo Valverde, Kathy Vargas, Harry Gamboa Jr., and Louis Carlos Bernal. Part two, "Individual Subjectivities," addresses representations of gender analyzing the work of Laura Aguilar and José Galvez. The final section, "Chicano Cultural Perspectives," investigates four Chicana/o/x cultural experiences—Miguel A. Gandert's mariachi series, Art Meza's low-riders, Delilah Montoya's women boxers, and Ken Gonzales-Day's Mexican lynching project.
Foster methodologically chooses photographs that were previously published in book form either as single-artist exhibition catalogs, scholarly monographs, or photobooks devoted solely to the artist. The parameters of this method highlight the limited scholarship and exhibition catalogs featuring Chicana/o/x photographers and their work. Given this context, Foster's greatest impact is the compilation of the ten artists into a single monograph of their work. As readers, we are exposed to the diverse canon of Chicana/o/x photography ranging from images of quotidian urbanism, to intentional performance art, to the traumatic historical legacy of westward colonial expansion. Moreover, this monograph makes apparent the necessity for further archival research dedicated to photography. Relying only on previously printed materials, while narrowing the scope for a more manageable investigation, neglects the rich photography under studied in archives such as the California Ethnic Multicultural Archives (CEMA). In addition, the majority of the monograph centers Chicana/o/x life in the Southwest. This work affirms the importance for further publications on photography that capture Chicana/o/x heterogeneity in the Midwest and East Coast.
Picturing the Barrio concentrates on ideological and semiotic analysis. Foster's first main theme emphasizes urban life. His detailed reading of Ricardo Valverde's East Los Angeles concrete metropolis landscapes balances effectively with his attention to Louis Carlos Bernal's work on [End Page 229] domestic spaces featuring families outside and inside their homes. Throughout the monograph, Foster also pays special attention to themes of gender and sexuality.
While the spirit of his research seeks to critique white supremacist colonial heteropatriarchy, at times the analysis fails to align and borders on reproducing the very power structures he wishes to critique. For example, Foster's chapter "Woman's Body and Other Objects of Nature: The Nude Photography of Laura Aguilar" replicates harsh language referring to Aguilar's body as "grotesquely obese" (76). Feminist studies of theoretical interventions in fat studies and decolonial studies would better situate Aguilar's work. After her death in spring 2018, Aguilar's cultural productions, especially her self-portraits, serve as foundational work in queer studies and Chicana feminist studies.
In a similar vein, the discussion of Delilah Montoya's photography on women boxers would benefit from more careful editing. For example, the multiple references to "Chicano feminism" indicate a clear disconnect to the long genealogy of Chicana feminist thought that paved the way for contemporary Chicana feminist artists and scholars to emerge. Readers can appreciate, however, Foster's examination of Montoya's women boxers as a disruption to traditional female gender roles and heteronormativity. The emphasis on this disruption is also evident in the layout with four of the five images each covering an entire page with the women featured staring intently back at the reader.
One of the more compelling chapters is the final one featuring the work of Ken Gonzales-Day. Readers unfamiliar with Mexican lynching in California will be exposed to both Gonzales-Day's scholastic monograph Lynching in the West as well as his multiple photographic series featuring trees where Mexicans were hung and reinterpretations of postcards that erase the lynched bodies. Gonzales-Day's series challenges traditional tropes in Chicana/o/x barrio photography with emphasis on his rural, natural landscapes.
In sum, Foster's Picturing the...