As hybrid-virtual-and-in-person DreamWeek 2021 kicked off Thursday, a new ultra-high-quality portrait exhibit opened as something of an eye-catching anchor to the pandemic-altered festivities. 

The exhibit, A Collective Vision: Notable People of San Antonio, is the work of fine art portrait photographer Kevin G. Saunders and his studio. It features striking and often dramatic black and white portraits of 69 San Antonians that, in 2020, made important impacts or contributions. A Collective Vision will be available for viewing, in compliance with masking and other pandemic protocols, at Brick at Blue Star through Jan. 20. The exhibit is also available virtually in fully interactive 3D.

In selecting individuals for these commemorative portraits, Saunders elicited the help of DreamWeek President Shokare Nakpodia (himself a portrait subject) and others. The goal, he said, was to honor the efforts of a truly diverse array of community members, each of whom rose admirably to the occasion of an especially difficult year in their own way.

Portrait subjects include Mayor Ron Nirenberg, former Mayor Henry Cisneros, former U.S. representatives Will Hurd and Charlie González, Judge Peter Sakai, San Antonio Food Bank President Eric Cooper, philanthropist Gordon Hartman, CPS Energy President Paula Gold-Williams, and other business, civic, spiritual, and cultural leaders.

Nakpodia referred to the project, which Saunders did entirely pro bono as a community service, in glowing terms.

Upon learning about the project, he said he quickly “realized that what [Saunders] was trying to accomplish was going to be a tremendous asset for the entire city.”

He praised the project for not only focusing on “the usual suspects” but giving a broad look into the “genius of the community” by recognizing individuals that are doing important work with less visibility.

All individual glory aside, Nakpodia said that “everyone in the city deserves a portrait” for their everyday remarkableness. 

Saunders said that what began as a way to use his talents and resources to honor exemplary community members became a profound experience of the true strength and dignity of these remarkable individuals.

With each “person that came through that door, my goal was to find their dignity and to capture it.”

Saunders described himself as a “person who sees the other side of people when I create their portraits” and as a “keeper of the secrets.” 

He feels as though he has seen “a side of these leaders that others might not see” and “noticed across the board their strength, perseverance, and determination.”

“It has been inspirational to me to hear the stories of these people that have carried San Antonio,” Saunders said, shouting out one community leader in particular.

"A Collective Vision: Notable People of San Antonio in 2020" is a photography exhibition by Kevin G. Saunders at Brick at Blue Star Arts Complex opening on the first day of Dreamweek, January 14, 2021.
Kevin G. Saunders, portrait photographer Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“Eric Cooper literally saved the community with the food bank,” Saunders said, noting that he made Cooper’s portrait “especially dramatic” because he “just felt so strongly that this guy has done truly amazing things for the community.”

The idea for the project, which came to Saunders last January, was to spotlight “business leaders, artistic leaders, civic leaders, religious leaders, cultural leaders, people that make our city great.”

Then, after meeting Nakpodia, Saunders became excited to broaden the scope of his project. Not only does he plan to continue doing portraits of remarkable San Antonians, but he also plans to expand the project nationally and even internationally. 

Saunders’ core goal is rather simple: to celebrate people and their contribution by finding “people deserving of recognition and create a world-class legacy portrait for them.”

He takes special pride in making portraits of the “many who may not otherwise have resources for such a portrait.”

“There are people who like to buy my portraits because they are good,” Saunders said, “but there are also people who I want to honor.”

"A Collective Vision: Notable People of San Antonio in 2020" is a photography exhibition by Kevin G. Saunders at Brick at Blue Star Arts Complex opening on the first day of Dreamweek, January 14, 2021.
A Collective Vision: Notable People of San Antonio in 2020 Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio Report spoke to just a few of the portrait subjects to find out what the exhibit means to them.

Garrett T. Capps – an alternative country singer-songwriter and part-owner of the Lonesome Rose who has used his outsized and charming personality for good more than once over the past year – said that at first he “didn’t really know what to make of the idea” of having his portrait taken.

After (probably) joking that he hopes to “one day run for mayor, so this is a step in the right direction,” he confessed that he felt “honored to be alongside these influential and important figures in our community.”

“I love San Antonio, and I try to contribute in every way I can,” he said. “And I think that has gone beyond playing music and organizing concerts.”

He even got Saunders to let him keep his trademark sunglasses on in the portrait.

Patricia Burr, chair of the University of the Incarnate Word’s school of business, said that Saunders’ “vision for this project is to be congratulated.”

She said that each portrait subject “knows that civic duty is expected and also understands how a community cannot thrive without everyone contributing to leadership, vision, and action.”

She also said that a renewed focus on the power of education to increase socioeconomic mobility and stabilize communities should be seen as “a continuing responsibility for all who are honored.”

González, the former congressman, said that “DreamWeek reminds us that so much remains to be done to achieve justice and equality.”

“While past achievements are recognized,” he said, “what is truly important is what we continue to do each and every day.”

Disclosure: San Antonio Report Editor Robert Rivard is featured in the portrait exhibit A Collective Vision: Notable People of San Antonio.

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James Courtney

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.