Interview with Francisco J. Dominguez at Vic’s Ice Cream Parlor, June 20, 2002, Sacramento

EPG: So can you tell me about this art show for George Longfish that's going on at the Gorman Museum at UC Davis and what that’s all about?

FD: George Longfish has been director there for 25 years and so he invited his friends to show work as the last show that he’s putting together. There’s about 20 artists or maybe more; and myself, I have a couple of photographs. Frank LaPena’s in this show, George Longfish, Brian Tripp, Roger Vale, Mike Henderson, and a lot more. But it’s quite a show and it’s up through the end of August.

EPG: So why is it called the Gorman Museum? Do you know any of the history behind that? Was he an artist there?

FD: Carl Gorman used to teach at UC Davis as a Navajo artist. Actually, he was a code talker in World War II. He was a veteran. And I don’t know his exact history, but it’s the Carl Gorman Museum, and [it’s] one of the only Native American art museums on the West Coast.

EPG: You said earlier that you had some of your best work up there. You think you could talk about that? Is that too personal?

FD: Yeah, I’d rather not talk too much about my own work. Go check it out. You’ll probably like it.

EPG: O.K., but we are still gonna keep it personal, because this is an interview of you, right? So can you talk about how you first got started in photography?

FD: Well I was a student at UC Davis at the time in 1987, and I was working for the Third World Forum newspaper on campus, but we didn’t have a photographer. And I went to the Art Building and took a class, Photography; and that’s how I got started. My first class was with an art professor named Roland Peterson.

EPG: What about poetry, when did you start doing that?

FD: I started poetry, I think it was 1989. There was a Chicana poet teaching in Chicano Studies named Gina Valdes, and I took a poetry class with her. And we had to write. And that’s how I got started. She encouraged me to keep writing.

EPG: Sometimes you have this technique where you write poems on your photos. Can you talk a little bit about that?

FD: Yeah, sometimes I do that because I do both media, and it’s a natural for me to mix them, and I’d like to do more of it.

EPG: What’s the process?

FD: Well usually the photo comes first, and then you just write a poem to go with it.

EPG: I thought you had stuff where you actually write poetry around your photo, like your kids were doing?

FD: Yeah. You write it around it, and you can go around a couple of times, or you can write under it, or you can write it right on it. Yeah you make the picture first, and then you do the poetry on top, or you can silkscreen it. There’s a lot of different ways to do it. But I think it’s a natural. You know, poetry with visuals is even more powerful. I’m just trying to mix it up. As far as my photographs that are in the Gorman Museum, those are a couple of my favorites. And as a photographer, you’re always trying to find something new, find something different, and Mexico is very personal to me because that’s where my father was born. My father was from Mexico City. And for me to go back there [loud crashing of dishes in the background] . . . and Mexico to me . . . on my travels I always go to the most native places where’s there’s large populations. And I feel very much at home in Mexico, even though I’m not from there. And I seem to make a lot of friends there. People really feel at ease with me taking photos. These photos at the Gorman are not of people, but they’re symbolic to me and more on a cosmological level. I’m just trying to get some photography from Mexico that has a deeper meaning. That’s kind of my quest right now. But go check ‘em out. They’re there.

EPG: So you’re gonna go to Mexico this summer. What do you plan on doing down there?

FD: Well I’m going to Mexico City to see my aunt and my cousins for a couple of days, and then I’m gonna go to Oaxaca, and I’m going to a small village by a town called Tula. I’m not sure if it’s a town or . . . there’s a giant tree there in Oaxaca and I’m gonna be close by there. I’m not familiar with the towns around there so I don’t know the exact name of it, but I’m gonna be there and I got invited by a friend. And I'll be in the town of Oaxaca, also, doing some photography.

EPG: So what’s it like down there?

FD: It’s more . . . there’s a lot of country, countryside, and very old buildings. There’s a lot of tourists there, but it’s still not like giant hotels or anything. It’s still a very special place, and has a very large indigenous population there of Xapotec Indians, and it’s a very Indian place, it’s a very magical place. And that’s why I’m going back. I was just there in November. There are also a lot of artists there . . . painters, yeah it’s famous for its artwork. They have paintings, they make stuff out of tin. They make chocolate there, it’s famous for its chocolate, and its food, its cuisine. It’s a special place.

EPG: You said you’re also gonna go to South Dakota, and you’re going to a sundance?

FD: Well, I’m gonna keep this answer very short. I’m going to a sundance and that’s where I go every summer, to go pray.

EPG: Well we talked a little bit about your poetry and your photography. Another thing you do a lot of is teaching, and I just wondered how you got into teaching?

FD: Well, I think I got into it by realizing the power of art and what it can do—as an individual and for a community. As a Chicano artist myself, I know that it’s already been . . . you know we’ve already seen the results of what art can do in our community, working with children and adults, that art can actually heal us--physically, spiritually, and it’s a natural thing. And so, that’s kind of how I come at it when I teach it, to actually . . . you know it’s more than just an art, it’s working with people’s lives and building . . . and bringing creativity into people’s lives. And that’s kind of how I come at it.

EPG: Should I let you eat some [ice cream]?

FD: No. Keep going.

EPG: You seem to have a really good rapport with the kids. Why do think that is? Because you’re an artist? What do you do to get the kids to do art if they’re reluctant?

FD: Well, you have to inspire them. You have to inspire them, and you have to instill in them that what they’re doing is important. And also, you have work with them, as individuals, you know. You have to show the kids that you care, that you care about this, and that you’re just not there putting in hours. And because uh in this society, so many people feel so isolated, that if you do work with people and you show them that what they’re doing is important, show ‘em what you’re doing, you can make a difference. Yeah. You have to be inspired about what you’re doing and you have to be willing to take an extra step with students. Yeah, you have to. Or it’s not gonna work.

EPG: I’ll just kind of close it up here. Just kind of a short interview, if that’s o.k. I read somewhere that one of the most important things about art is the act of creation that the public doesn’t even see. And I wondered if you could talk about that? Maybe the process of taking photos, or writing poetry. I know it’s a difficult question.

FD: It’s a difficult question, but I think there comes a time when you’re . . . as an artist when the creative process is almost an unconscious process. And I’m not saying that in a vain way or anything, it’s just that pretty much that's what it becomes after a while, after you’ve done it for long enough. It’s just like when you take photos. I’m at a place now where I know what the photo’s gonna look like when I take it. I know what it’s gonna look like already in black and white. And then also what you do as an artist, you’re creating your own reality, basically you’re creating your own medium when you’re working; whether it’s the photography or painting. Because what you’re doing is you’re putting . . . whatever comes out of you, whether it’s writing or photographs or painting, it’s you. No one else did it but you. So like I tell the kids, that camera is an extension of you. Yeah, you have that camera in your hand and whatever comes out of there is an extension of you. A camera is a tool, like a paintbrush or like if you’re working with clay. The creative process is a very special thing that this society does not value very much, for whatever reason. And I don’t know what that reason is, but when you have a society . . . well this analogy I’m using is probably going to sound extreme, but this society, this country, the history of this country [is that it] practiced genocide on its indigenous people that were some of the most creative people. Yeah. Their life was creativity . . . and very abstract also because of the Native religion. Their lifestyle was art. Poetry. A lot of the languages were natural poetry. Some of the things you can’t even translate in English, the Native languages, because it doesn’t even sound right. But the languages were just very poetic. The relationship with nature . . . that was . . . their religion was directly tied and still is, to nature. There’s not a separation. And so, maybe that’s where it started, but that’s not to say that we shouldn’t keep doing it. We should practice it and do as much as we can, and share that creativity because it’s only gonna help people in the long run. You have to have that confidence that what you’re doing is important, and you know that it's gonna pay off for the people involved in the long run, even though you might not see short-term, quick results. For the long run, yeah, it’s gonna be good.

EPG: One last question. Are you working on any projects? What about this magazine that your photos are going to be published in?

FD: It’s a magazine out of New York, it’s a Latino quarterly called Nueva Luz, the New Light. Actually it’s a Native American issue, myself and three other photographers. I’m Chicano, but I’m also Native. I mean there’s no doubt about that; it’s just that my experience in this country is Chicano. But on a more spiritual side, that’s definitely a Native side of me. But I’m known also in the Native community, and they’ve included me in this journal that’s coming out of New York, and that should be coming out this fall. So I’m excited about that because they’re showing my farmworker series, Guatemalan refugees in Chiapas, and the Aztec dance series, yeah the Chicano indigenous reclamation project, you know. It’s like, what is our experience in this country? It’s like . . . it’s very different . . . we have to pool ourselves . . . whatever we do in this country, we have to do it, you know. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to reclaim our identities, our history, our families, through our artwork, and trying to uplift the community through our work. That’s what Chicano art is all about. A lot of people are not doing that type of work anymore. But there’s still a lot of people that are dedicated and doing the good work with the community with the community health in mind—the spiritual health of the people.

 

EPG & FD 2002