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Life & Arts

'Picture Man': Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon's 'Vecino' chronicles 25 years in his East Austin neighborhood

05_Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon.jpg
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
One of Sanhueza-Lyon's neighbors as seen in "Vecino."

Photographer Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon spent eight years as my colleague at KUT and KUTX before moving on last year to other things. Since then, he’s been able to refocus a bit more on the artistic side of his craft, resulting in the new show Vecino on display now at Prizer Arts & Letters.

Vecino, a collection of portraits and accompanying interviews, is a project that’s been in the making for a quarter of a century.

“[Vecino] basically is a collection of portraits that I’ve done over the past 25 years that I’ve lived in this neighborhood just off of Cesar Chavez — I think officially it’s the Holly Street neighborhood — but I spend most of my time on Cesar Chavez,” Sanhueza-Lyon says. “The portraits have all been taken within a mile of my home. I think the goal of these portraits originally was just to recognize the community that I was now a part of. And it was a way to meet folks that I would otherwise probably not meet, and just acknowledging that these are the people I share this space with, and I’m gonna dig in a little bit and bring the camera around and get to know them, and in the process become part of the community that I had settled into.”

Sanhueza-Lyon says his natural shyness sometimes made it difficult to approach his new neighbors about the project.

“It would start with a wave,” he says. “And whenever I got a wave back, I knew that, OK, at least they’re willing to maybe have a chat. And then quickly I would introduce a camera — within a week or two or a month sometimes — and eventually it would lead to a portrait, and a lot of times, to a friendship.”

“The biggest compliment that I would get, I think, is when people would call me ‘Picture Man’ or ‘Photo Man,’” Sanhueza-Lyon says. “They’d see me walking by and they’d say ‘Hey, Picture Man! How you doing, Picture Man?’”

His reputation as 'Picture Man' led to Sanhueza-Lyon becoming the sort of unofficial documentarian for his new neighborhood.

“I have photographed more quinceañeras than a quinceañera photographer, maybe,” he says. “I think I quickly became the free photographer in the neighborhood, and that was all great with me because it was a blast. The neighborhood has raised me and this is kind of how it happened, just by bringing the camera around.”

“The oldest image is of some neighbors — a couple that live behind me — and I shot that, I think, in 1996,” Sanhueza-Lyon says. “So that was definitely on film, [and was shot] with an old bulky film camera, a medium format film camera. And the most recent image was probably a few months ago, and it was shot with a very large digital camera. I think there are 25 or 30 [portraits] in the show. There are infinitely more on hard drives and negatives all over the place in my house. But I’m really glad that it’s become this big of a collection of images. And more than anything, it’s a collection of stories for me. It’s a collection of friends that I’ve come across and experiences, interesting moments, fleeting moments – some of the people in the images, I don’t quite remember their names. But I remember the time that we got to hang out.”

Sanhueza-Lyon says he hopes that some of the people who come to Prizer to see the collection will be inspired to do something similar themselves.

“I hope people recognize that you don’t have to come to East Austin to find an interesting, dynamic community,” he says. “There’s nothing exotic about this neighborhood over any other. It’s just about recognizing the people that you share a geographic space with. And hopefully people will realize that this exists in their own community, whether it’s in Georgetown or Round Rock or Westlake or Chicago or Mexico City.”

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon's 'Vecino' is on display at Prizer Arts & Letters through Jan. 8.

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