“Battle of Flowers” by Mark Greenberg. Photo courtesy of Mark Greenberg,
“Battle of Flowers” by Mark Greenberg. Photo courtesy of Mark Greenberg,

A mariachi. The Battle of Flowers Parade. Dia de los Muertos. It doesn’t get much more San Antonio than that.

Not surprisingly, these are some of the images included in the ¡Puro San Antonio! exhibit as part of this year’s FOTOSEPTIEMBRE USA SAFOTO festival. The exhibit opens with a reception from 5-7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27 at the Musical Bridges Around the World (MBAW) Gallery, 23705 IH-10 West, Suite 101.

Julya Jara is the MBAW gallerist curating the exhibit. It’s her first time both as a curator for FOTOSEPTIEMBRE USA and as a contributing photographer. Jara’s photos are part of the This is What I Know exhibit opening at Digital Pro Lab on Friday, Aug. 26.

“For years I’ve been following the work of many photographers in town and knew exactly where to look for the desired content,” Jara said. “While most photographers in the show have a background in photojournalism, one great surprise was to discover the Dia de los Muertos-inspired piece by Natalia Sun who is actually a fashion photographer. She joined the lineup in the later stages and broadened the perspective of the show.”

Sun, a Latvian native who moved to San Antonio two years ago, has combined her graphic design background with her true passion: photography.

In addition to Sun, the other photographers whose works are included in the exhibit are: Darren Abate, a freelance photojournalist who has been published internationally and is a regular contributor to such agencies as Associated Press and Getty Images; Billy Calzada, a news photographer who has worked at the El Paso Herald-Post, Orlando Sentinel, and is currently with the San Antonio Express-News; Mark Greenberg, a photojournalist and commercial photographer whose clients include USA Today, National Geographic and ESPN; Josh Huskin, an editorial and advertising photographer whose work has been featured on 50-plus covers of regional magazines; and Mark Sobhani, an internationally published photojournalist who has dedicated himself to documentary photography after a career as a newspaper staff photographer.

This year marks the 22nd celebration of FOTOSEPTIEMBRE USA, an annual photography festival founded and directed by Michael Mehl and his wife, Ann Kinser. Exhibits are planned in San Antonio and the surrounding area and run from Friday, Aug. 26-Thursday, Oct. 6. See the 2016 Exhibitions and Events Calendar for a complete listing. Also happening in September is the first annual 4×5 Photo Fest, which will take place Saturday, Sept. 24.

While every photo tells a story, there’s also a story behind the making of the photo. One of Greenberg’s images, “Battle of Flowers,” (see top image) looks like a museum diorama come to life. It’s a unique perspective into the San Antonio tradition of Fiesta, and was taken from a third floor window of the old Southern Music building at Broadway Street and Jones Avenue.

“It’s always a great view of the parade right before it passes before the TV cameras,” Greenberg said. “I made the photo with an early 1950s Graflex Crown Graphic camera – the kind used extensively by press photographers during the early and middle of last century – and the effect in the photo was created in-camera using a technique that allows me to use the unique features of this type of camera to manipulate the plane of focus.

“Essentially, by altering the angle of the lens plane in relation to the film plane of the camera, I can create a very narrow swath of sharp focus across just a portion of the image,” he continued. “The crazy thing is that now there are apps available for your smart phone that try to mimic this effect digitally, but in my opinion, there is nothing quite like creating the effect optically, on good, old-fashioned film.”

“Mystical Brides,” one of Sun’s photos, came about as a result of her fascination with Mexican culture.

"Mystical Brides" by Natalia Sun.  Photo courtesy of Natalia Sun.
“Mystical Brides” by Natalia Sun.  Photo courtesy of Natalia Sun.

“When I moved to San Antonio, I met so many wonderful people from Mexico and got submerged into their culture, music and art,” Sun said. “The Dia de los Muertos celebration was one of the traditions that drew me in most with its aspect of using color as part of cultural expression, such as calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls) which appeared everywhere during this holiday.”

Sun said the idea of “Mystical Brides” was born as a creative experiment, an attempt to merge glamour, fashion and tradition to see what happens.

“Each bridal portrait took about six hours to create – three hours for styling, hair and sugar skull painting, 1.5 hours shooting and 1.5 hours editing,” Sun explained. “Once I had all three ready, I brought them all into a ‘dark forest’ environment through digital art compositing to reinforce the theme and make things more interesting conceptually.”

Sun hopes to create similar portraits in the future, possibly making an art book as a tribute to this cultural tradition.

“I wanted a beautiful story surrounded by secrets and mystery, to make a viewer wonder who those beautiful women are and why they are there,” she said.

MBAW’s mission is to unite, educate and inspire through culturally diverse performing and visual arts programming. They offer a variety of programs in addition to bringing in world-class musicians.

“Musical Bridges Around the World is on a unique mission of bridging cultural differences and bringing people together using both music and art,” Jara said. “We wanted to reflect that in our FOTOSEPTIEMBRE exhibition by telling the story of our city that is so beautifully diverse in its cultural heritage.”

Jara said MBAW reaches more than 80,000 individuals annually who can attend concerts free of charge, including The International Music Festival. The organization will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2018.

“We believe that art is an integral part of human lives and should be accessible to all,” said Anya Grokhovski, MBAW founder and artistic director.

All photos in ¡Puro San Antonio! will be available for sale, and the photographers are all expected to attend the opening reception.


Top image: “Battle of Flowers” by Mark Greenberg.  Photo courtesy of Mark Greenberg.

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Annette Crawford

Annette Crawford is an Air Force veteran and has spent more than 30 years as a writer, editor, and public affairs officer. She is the house photographer at Sam’s Burger Joint & Music Hall.