Al Rendon has been photographically documenting the life and culture of San Antonio for nearly fifty years. Each month, LNF Weekly is reproducing one of Al’s favorite shots, along with his story of how that photo came to be.
In the late 1980s, I was regularly taking photographs for the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, and Juan Tejeda was putting together the annual Tejano Conjunto Festival for the Center. He had started a Hall of Fame award program, and he and another man brought the new trophy over to my studio so I could take photos of it.
While I was taking the photos, we were talking, and I mentioned that I was doing a series of photos for a Virgen de Guadalupe exhibit put together by Kathy Vargas, the visual arts director for the Center. This was going to be the first exhibit of my photography as ‘art’, and I was very excited about it. Kathy had given me a new way of looking at my photography.
The man who was there with Juan said to me: ‘You should take a photo of my tattoo.’
He took off his shirt and he had this great tattoo of the Virgen. But the story behind that tattoo was even better.
I didn’t know him at the time, but the man with the tattoo was Raúl Salinas, the prison poet. Salinas was born in San Antonio and got into trouble with drugs, spending something like fifteen years in federal prison. But while he was in prison, he got an education and began writing poetry and writing articles for the prison newspaper.
When he was finally released from prison, he got his college degree, taught at UT, opened a bookstore in Austin, and became really well known for his poetry and his political activism.
This tattoo was done while he was in prison. Notice the aura around the Virgen — it’s incomplete on the right side. He told me that was because he got released before the tattoo could be finished.
See more of Al's work on his website.