Artist Statement

Artist Statement

My work as a photographer is inspired by my experience as an immigrant Zapotec Serrano from Oaxaca, Mexico. Photography for me is a path to understand my homeland. I’m primarily interested in my people: the ones who have stayed and the ones who have left, and the links that unite them.
At fifteen, I learned black and white photography thanks to Mexican photographer Mariana Rosenberg, who believed indigenous people had a right to tell their own stories. Mariana called the project “The Inner Gaze: Photographers from Guelatao.” The workshop lasted four years and resulted in exhibitions in Mexico, Spain, and the United States. Mariana’s mentorship was crucial for my career. She introduced me to the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bill Brandt, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Tina Modotti, Mariana Yampolsky, Graciela Iturbide, and Joan Liftin, among others. Her methodology was focused especially on curating photographs – moving them around and creating stories with them.  

Shortly after college, I started working as the black and white laboratory technician for the Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo in Oaxaca. In this position, I was in charge of developing and printing the photographs of accomplished photographers, like Mary Ellen Mark and her students. Working for  Mary Ellen Mark’s workshop was a crash course in photography. Every day for two weeks I had to develop and make contact sheets of around 100 rolls of black and white film. I also had to make 8x10 copies of 80 to 100 prints she selected. This taught me to see her way of selecting one picture out of many, to pay attention to the minimal details that make a moment memorable.

In 2011, I won a Mexican National Arts Fellowship to photograph basketball in the indigenous communities of Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte. This career and life-altering project brought me closer than ever to my roots, and also landed my work in the New York Times, Harper’s, Viceland, and elsewhere. I remembered my deep love for the Sierra, with its tournaments in the fog and community members cleaning the basketball court together. I learned how to develop a project over the course of a year, deepening and revising it. I connected with a community of artists and editors who have helped me refine, review, and develop my work. I also, ironically because of living so far from my culture, reaffirmed my indigenous identity, which I had grown up learning to hide in mestizo Mexico. 

My body of work explores the meaning of sports in indigenous community. Where I come from, an extremely poor area, there is a strong emphasis on giving. Even those who have little give freely. Opportunities are rare, and those who have been lucky feel the need to give back. Migrants, who also tend to be quite poor within the United States, give huge portions of their income to their villages. I see my photography as a kind of responsibility and gift, to honor the traditions that have made me who I am.

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Jorge Santiago | Pittsburgh Documentary Photographer

Jorge Santiago is a freelance documentary photographer based in Pittsburgh; specializing in sports, portraits, and stories in Mexico. View his portfolio today!
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