I recently attended the photography exhibit called “The Art of Making Tequila” at the Casa Dolores Museum, 1023 Bath Street, in Santa Barbara. It simply took my breath away, not for its size, but for its quality. Since I love photography, I try to go to exhibits to see what I can learn, but I mostly just stare at the pictures in awe of their beauty and the artistry involved.
This time, not only did the photographs attract me to the museum, but also the topic. Because I enjoy tequila so much, it would have been an unforgivable sin not to show up and at least acquire a little knowledge about the complicated and arduous process of making it. This exhibit will be open to the public until June 15.
I’m not going to try and explain the process to you, because that’s something that you can learn on your own when you go to Casa Dolores by looking at the pictures. Instead, and because these photographers live right here in Goleta, I decided to interview Henry O. Ventura and Aliz Ruvalcaba-Ventura, and ask them a few questions about their love for bringing images to life. Not only for telling a story, but about their efforts to — as Aliz described it — bring “those who observe our pictures as close to the experience as possible.”
I asked when they started taking such artistic pictures. In an alternating, animated manner they explained that they founded R&V Photography in 2009. For a long time, they both had photography as a hobby in common, and at some point decided to take it more seriously by creating a business venture.
Their initial idea was to offer a professional photography service for low-income families at a reduced price, and in that way give something back to the community. They were constantly called on to fix other people’s jobs—blurry pictures, and so on—and felt that it was simply not right that people were paying so much for such poor service. After all, the Venturas pointed out, these are very special, treasured moments for families.
Now they have expanded from that original impetus, but they “will always continue to serve low-income families,” they said together, with warm smiles on their faces. But after awhile, they started to get called to take pictures at bigger events, and for journalistic assignments, and of course they didn’t say no. And, because traveling is another one of their passions, they also “share the world as we see it, from our own perspective, and through our pictures.” They have done so with their travels in China and Cuba; the tequila exhibit came about from a trip to Mexico, specifically this region called Tequila, Jalisco.
A picture of a man working on an agave caught my attention, and I asked what the man was doing. He is a jimador, they answered, the person who peels the leaves from the jima, as the heart of the agave is called. The man is wearing the traditional white cotton attire used to do this job, they explained. Jimadores peel those leaves off in order to be able to extract the agave’s juices, and that’s how the whole process of tequila making starts.
While looking at this picture, my mind immediately transported me to the Mexican campiña and I felt like I was there, next to the jimador, hearing the sound of his tools, feeling the intense heat, and enjoying the openness of the field. This picture also evoked the dramatic skies in Gone with the Wind and the exhausting labor of those who work in agricultural fields. Aliz and Henry’s work truly allowed me to immerse myself in the experience of this captured moment.
At the exhibition, people will also see pictures showing the old fábrica, where they used to do the tequila distillation, for a better idea of the whole process.
I asked what kinds of technical things people might want to be aware of when they look at the photographs. They said to look at the paper: It is a metallic paper that makes the photos more dramatic, with more vibrant colors, and it has a distinctive texture. Also, the lighting: “We tried using natural light, as well as the original electric light – yellow bulbs – inside the fábrica, and the result was really spectacular, we think, but it is up to the public to decide.”
People can buy their pictures via their Web site, as well as to seek their photography services for an event, and for a sneak peek at their greater collection of pictures, called “The World Through Our Eyes.” Before we said good-bye, Henry and Aliz promised they will let us know first when the public will be able to view this collection in an exhibit.