Latinx Photography in the United States

By Elizabeth Ferrer

Excerpt from Chapter on, The Archive:

For many latinx artists working with the Camera, photography functions as an act against forgetting—against the forms of social and cultural marginalization that diminish or erase communities from the historical record, effecting a kind of historical amnesia. Photographs assert the presence of individuals, communities, and histories that might otherwise be either willfully overlooked or inaccurately portrayed; the medium acts as both a personal and a political form of declaration, an affirmation of being. In Archive Fever, the philosopher Jacques Derrida examined archives from a Freudian perspective, framing them as repositories both public and personal. For Derrida, the archive—whether based on personal belongings, institutional records, the library, or the museum collection—is driven by primal urges to forget or omit, on the one hand, and to conserve, on the other. Derrida spoke of a compulsive drive, a burning human passion for the archive—a return to origins. Rather than seeing the archive as the dry receptacle for history, he posited it as an active force; it holds a position of authority because it shapes and controls the way history is read, which in turn shapes our social and political realities. As Derrida noted, “the question of the archive is not . . . a question of the past.” Rather, it opens “the very question of the future itself, the question of a response, of a promise and of a responsibility for tomorrow.”1…


Ken Gonzales- Day (b. 1964, Santa Clara, California; based in Claremont, California) pursues a rigorously con-ceptual, interdisciplinary practice that involves research, photography, and the use of historic images. Reflecting a similar dedication to political commit-ment that distinguished the pioneer-ing generation of Chicanx artists, he has created bodies of work that pow-erfully illuminate little- known aspects of Latinx history in the United States. Gonzales- Day has been particularly interested in countering the absence of Latinx people in visual and written histories of the American West. He based his 2006 series, Searching for California’s Hang Trees, on extensive research he conducted over the course of a decade to expose the little- known history of the lynching of Mexicans in California in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He identified the sites of lynchings in California— mostly of Latinx men but also of Native Americans and migrant Chinese laborers. By searching archives, Gonzales- Day located photographs, written documents, souvenir postcards, and newspaper accounts of lynchings. He traveled to the sites where these crimes took place decades ago and photographed some of the trees where victims were hung. The artist has presented this project as a book, as a detailed walking tour of Los Angeles, and in exhibitions of monumentally scaled photographs that ren-der the trees as massive but mute witnesses, unnerving in our cognizance of their role in heinous crimes.4 …

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