Joel Salcido: Photographer extraordinaire
By Joe Olvera ©, 2010
Joel Salcido’s photographs are more than just people posing, or sunsets with the typical tints that color the amazing panorama. His photos are more like art, like paintings on canvas that capture human lives in all their glory and in all their humanity. In one such photo, he captures a group of cowboys or wildcatters as they gather to eat breakfast at a small-town diner. Salcido captures even the slightest wrinkle on their clothing, as they discuss the news of the day yet to come, or as one pours coffee from a coffee pot – leathery face in deep concentration.
To sum up Salcido’s work as a creative photographer is to describe his talent in one word: Maturity. From his earliest days as an intern with The El Paso Times, to his tenure as one of a group of photojournalists for that newspaper, he has grown not only in age – 53 – but in perspective and power.
“The years do fly by,” said Salcido from his home in Austin, Texas. “But, I’ve never forgotten my roots. However, Juarez, Mexico, where I was born has receded into my past because I have no wish to return there, not in light of what’s been happening. I go back to El Paso to visit family. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast in El Paso and working at the Times, but, the times change. I’m now doing something different.”
Salcido knew early on that he was slated for greatness. Only three years as a photojournalist, he received from the El Paso Press Club the Dorrance D. Roderick Award for his special section on the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico. The piece documented the Chihuahua Indians and their fragile existence in the Sierra Madre Occidental. This was the catalyst for his receiving numerous awards, and for his finally leaving the Times in 1991 to pursue commercial photography. He left El Paso eight years later to live and work in Spain. Currently, he is an editorial and fine art photographer. He produces work for galleries and publications such as USA Today, Texas Monthly, and Texas Highways.
“I’m disconnected with the border,” Salcido said. “Except, of course, when I’m with my mother because she lives there, although she knows it could be dangerous. My feeling is why risk life and limb for the money I could generate there. It’s just not worth it. I would wind up doing more harm than good.”
Salcido said that his growth into a fine arts photographer is an “evolution.” He credits former Times Chief Photographer, Luis Villalobos, with making him what he is today. “Luis was a tremendous talent. We all learned from him because he was the best, and we owe him a lot. He’s the best boss I ever had, because he was such an excellent mentor. What I’m doing today is an extension of what I learned from him. I had a ball working at the Times, and learning from Luis, but, I wouldn’t consider going back.
“I realize that I may be giving up a lucrative contract, a steady paycheck, but, I haven’t starved,” Salcido said. It’s been rough. As the economy goes, so goes my business, but, photography is more than just a business, it’s my great love. Why would I ever give it up? I’ve done relatively well in the last two years, but, I did hurt somewhat in 2008 and 2009, yet, it’s coming back. But, that’s life in a nutshell, you just have to keep going and never give up.”
To view and appreciate Salcido’s photography, one must spend an entire day, because there is so much to see, so much power and grace. One such pic shows the Passion of the Christ, as He carries his cross to Calvary, the site where he will be crucified. The photograph practically screams at the viewer with the immortal words: “God, why have you forsaken me?”