Collin College Photography Professor Lupita Murillo Tinnen’s latest gallery show, “Immigrant Laborers,” will hang in The University of Texas at Dallas Visual Art Building from now through Friday, July 24.
The pieces take documentary portrait photography, then layer in text and other images to create something unique. Cougar News spoke to Murillo Tinnen about the show and her process.
Do you consider your photography primarily art, documentary or social commentary?
It is a combination of all three. I do consider myself an artist, but I work in a documentary style just as Walker Evans did in the 1930s. He called his work on the depression “art with documentary style.” I feel the same way about my work. And it is social commentary because I try to make social statements with my artwork.
Are there common themes that run through your work?
I focus mostly on immigration, Mexican-American issues and the undocumented. I am interested in those subjects because my parents are Mexican immigrants and I have always been interested in photographing my own culture. It’s what I know and it is what I have tended to stick with for quite a while now.
Why do you feel it is important to document the lives of immigrant laborers?
I think it is important because they are people who are usually in the shadows. The people who I photographed are not necessarily undocumented. They are just immigrants, meaning they were born elsewhere and came here at some point in their lives.
We don’t think about the person who cuts produce, builds buildings or cleans buildings. They are usually behind the scenes. They are there, but we don’t really pay any attention.
I wanted to honor them and bring them into the spotlight. I also wanted them to be represented as they wanted to be represented. So, I had them choose their own clothing instead of photographing them as a worker, which is what most people would have thought to do. I wanted to honor them in a different way.
Is there one overriding idea you would like people to take away from this show?
Yes, that they are our equals. Mostly, we think about (immigrant laborers) as an “other.” I want people to see them as an equal, which is why I printed some of them so large. I wanted the photos to say, “Look! Here I am. Look at me.” Instead of being in the shadows, they are in the spotlight.
Why choose to start from a blank canvas and layer images with text rather than more traditional documentary photography?
I think the documentary style is changing. We have an overabundance of images all around us every day – billions of images on social media and with all the selfies that people take – we are inundated with imagery. I wanted to step away from the traditional and do something a little bit different, to start with a blank canvas and build an image from scratch.
In addition to her work at Collin College, Murillo Tinnen is pursuing her PhD in aesthetic studies at UT Dallas. She has a Master of Fine Arts in photography from the University of North Texas and a bachelor’s degree in photography from Texas A&M Commerce.
The exhibit is free and open to the public through Friday, July 24. The UT Dallas Visual Art Building is open from 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday.
You can see other pieces of Murillo Tinnen’s work at her website, www.lupitatinnen.com.