Editor's note: Please read the updates that follow this story
Long-simmering tensions boiled over last week between a who's who of movimiento photojournalists seeking access to historic photographic negatives. When LatinoLA published Luis C. Garza's Open Letter pointed at Raúl Ruiz, settlement quickly ensued.
The pedo arises from Ruiz' apparent refusal to return to the photographers negatives of fotos published in La Raza newspaper and magazine. La Raza stands as paper of record for the Chicano movement. It published in Los Angeles from 1967 until it folded in the early 1980s, with Ruiz its closing editor.
Pitted against Ruiz are a dozen contributing photographers -- former staffers -- who want their images back. The collective of aggrieved photogs includes such notables as USC J-school profe Felix Gutiérrez, media magnate Moctezuma Esparza, and celebrated photographer Oscar Castillo.
Such negatives are cultural treasures. Through their prints today's readers can witness only once removed the only extant participant observer images of pivotal moments in U.S. history. It was the incarnation of a political awakening that has grown into today's electoral landslide for Obama. This is important material.
Here are the street level frames taken by students in high school student walk-outs, marchers with the Brown Berets, and Catolicos por La Raza giving the archbishopric hell. Garza's Open Letter claims the trove to be "likely the largest collection of photographic documentation produced of the Chicano urban movement in the United States."
Negatives hold not only an image of a moment but also, to the photographer, something of personal importance. Given access to one's old negatives opens those images to modern tools and materials, permit one to re-imagine an expression for today. There is no way to express the personal pain from loss of one's youthful work, nor measure the regret for what might be done to make new prints using today's abilities. Poet Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado alludes to something similar, one thousand masterpieces hanging only from his mind.
In many ways, this negative pedo stands in sad epitaph for the Chicano movement pictured in those negatives. La Raza newspaper and magazine, according to the artists, represented a collective effort of grass roots gente enfrentando the establishment for la gente.
Back then compañeras compañeros didn't sign waivers and declare their rights, and all that establishment crap. It was la causa, and their burgeoning skills and a la brava energy got the work produced.
Now matured and seasoned, some may have strayed from that idealism, vencido, perhaps.
Ruiz enjoys a solid reputation as a scholar and has the lasting gratitude of history for being in the right place at the right time with his lens when that Sheriff Deputy fired his tear-gas gun into the Silver Dollar. Ruiz' lens told the truth, so it must hurt to be seen as a sin vergüenza, or worse, over these missing negatives.
I do not know Ruiz' motive. The foregoing summarizes the feelings of twelve photographers named in Luis C. Garza's "Open Letter to all concerned," published November 10 at the popular LatinoLA. Ruiz did not reply to La Bloga's inquiry via email, so I can draw no firm conclusions but like any pedo, it stinks.
See the Update at the bottom of this column. Ruiz' actions Monday now put the pedo in the past. It's good to see matters righted and the negatives headed home. La Bloga will update the conclusion of the agreement.
Late Monday, November 12, La Bloga received this email from Joe Razo:
"As a previous editor of La Raza Publications which included La Raza Newspaper and Magazine plus Chicano Student Newspaper, Raul Ruiz and I met this morning and cleared our misunderstanding of facts. We are in accord and stand united as La Raza and El Barrio Communication Project Staff. The photographers mentioned in the prior letter also are in accord and will soon meet with me to claim ownership of their negatives. We hope that this valuable history of our movement will soon be accessible to educators, researchers, and the community."
Email sent by Luis Garza on Tuesday morning, November 13
To Whom it may concern.
Re: Open Letter-La Raza negative archives
This is to inform you that a resolution of the issue is in progress and that La Raza staff/photographers have received a substantial amount of materials from Professor Raul Ruiz. This is a welcomed development to amicably bring this matter to a mutual and satisfactory conclusion.
We have resolved the situation and there are no issues of integrity.
We will keep you posted on all that pertains to this matter regarding archival access.