Tony Mendoza, identity work

“I’m strictly a black-and-white photographer. . . . I photograph what I see. . . . I just photograph my cats, my kids, and my wife whenever she lets me.”

I discovered the work of Mendoza through a reference in a disabled art exhibition. Although Mendoza is not a disabled artist per se, he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. According to the exhibition review, he combined photographs of his daughter, aged 3 with excerpts from his diary when he was diagnosed with his illness:

His work Stories combines image and text in small narratives that are anecdotal, vernacular and fun, despite the ‘serious’ look of the black and white documentary style images.

Primarily taking pictures of his family members and pets, he does not really move beyond the family album snapshot material, but presents the images in a refreshing way. It is both familiar territory, since we can relate to the narrative content, and at the same time revealing, since we are experiencing the life of another person from the inside.

I like the way he uses everyday objects, photographs them in a very straightforward way, and then adds a text that is not only entertaining, but also gives an insight into his life and values.

I enjoy the autobiographical works most of all, but he also made a series about his daughter, Lydia. Taken each year at Halloween, it is an intimate and touching document (without being overly sentimental) of the growing up of a young girl – how her ideas and tastes developed and changed as she grew older:

Mendoza spoke of his decision to get filmmaking equipment, since he found the still camera too limiting as a result of his daughter’s character development: “I haven’t been photographing Lydia much lately, although I’m starting to get the urge. Part of the problem is that what she’s saying now is what is truly interesting and pictures don’t capture that.”

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