At Rowan Gallery, vintage photos from Victor Lopez's family

On a journey to make a documentary, film student Victor Lopez went to Mexico in 2000 to visit a great-aunt who ended up handing him items that were not just family mementos but a window into cultural history. The keepsakes exhibited how professional black-and-white photography in the Tepatitlan region of Jalisco was created by his uncle and father more than 70 years ago.

Celia Gutierrez gave him a box with more than 150 photographs and negatives that her husband, Samuel, and Lopez's father, Herminio, took between the 1930s and 1950s. Herminio died in 1994, but the prints had not been seen since Samuel's death in 1958.

"She knew that I would do something with them, and I have to deliver," Lopez said. "I'm sitting on a pot of gold and I can't wait to share them with the world."

He will do so Sept. 10 when he unveils 10 vintage prints at the Downtown L.A. Art Walk at the Rowan Gallery. A new set will debut Sept. 16 at the Rowan.

Samuel and Herminio "were artists doing beautiful work, and I want to make sure the world sees their work," he said. "It's important to me and to the art of black-and-white photography."

Demonstrating precision and talent to capture still images on medium- and large-format cameras, which required large film sheets, the photos taken by the duo show family members getting married, burying kin and preparing meals, and a woman being serenaded by mariachis.

They would charge anywhere from 5 pesos for passport pictures to thousands of pesos to photograph weddings.

Although a majority of the photographs are of relatives and friends, the images also act as a social documentary that is representative of culture and how people lived at the time, Lopez said. And for being decades old, the photographs are surprisingly crisp and sharp, giving them a retro look with a modern feel, he said.

-- Juliette Funes

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