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The Photography of Erik Castro

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The Photography of Erik Castro

By Maja Wood

Erik Castro photos of latino immigrants

Every now and then, I’ll have a short encounter with another person – maybe it’s just a quick exchange of “thank yous” with the cashier as she hands back my change, or maybe it’s during a chat with another pedestrian as we wait for the street light to change – and for those few seconds, there’s a sense of connection that isn’t always there in my usual hustle and bustle of life, chasing down the ideas running around my head. Sometimes there’s that unexpected moment when I’ll look at someone’s face and something clicks and brings me back to the present. And, much less often, a photograph of someone will do the same thing. The funny thing is, the pictures taken by photographer Erik Castro give me that feeling of actually seeing the person in the picture pretty consistently. I’ve been curious how he manages to do that. 

If any of you attended that Creative Sonoma meeting last year when a number of local artists performed and/or spoke to the crowd, then you most likely remember Erik. After that event, I heard a lot of people comment on Erik’s talk, his presence, and his ability to connect with the audience. Philosophers, poets, psychologists and sages have all tried to explain the essence of being “connected,” “being present” or “mindful.” It’s a tough thing to describe in words, but when you’re “in the moment,” you know it. And when someone else is living in the present, you can sense that too.

Erik seems to have that ability to simply be there and connect with the world around him. Perhaps that’s what’s coming through in his work, and part of the reason it’s so powerful. He and his 10-year-old daughter Nila, recently met up with me at SoCo Coffee on Fourth Street so I could learn a little about his upcoming show at Christie Marks Fine Art Gallery, opening August 5. It consists of 17 large, black-and-white photos of the faces of harvest workers. More photos from the series will be featured in the September issue of Sonoma Magazine.

The magazine wanted to run a story about harvest and the photo editor gave Erik carte blanche on what kind of photos to take. Erik had already spent a year photographing aspects of the wine industry while working with well-known wine writer Jon Bonne for his book The New California Wine. So, Erik already had a vague idea floating around of what he would like to do next. When the call came from Sonoma Magazine, the idea gelled.

“I wanted to take pictures of the harvest workers. After all, what would Sonoma County be without the wine industry, and what would the wine industry be without the workers? But I didn’t want to take the usual photos of them in the field. I didn’t want a single grape leaf anywhere. I just wanted photos of their faces, just human beings looking into the camera straight on.”

At one point in the conversation, Erik choked up a bit while describing the time he went to the printers to pick up the enlarged photos for the upcoming show. “I’d seen the photos on my computer and even as small prints. But, this was the first time I saw one that large, and maybe it was the surprise of it that made me look at it with new eyes. And, when I saw it, I thought, ‘I’ve finally done it.’ My mom passed away a year ago last April, and I wish she could have seen these. I’m proud of the work I’ve done in the past, but, for the first time, I feel like I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m able to produce the kind of work I’ve always wanted to. As an artist, I think you always want to leave something behind, some kind of legacy, that will outlast you. And, I feel like I’m finally there. I guess part of it is just the hours of practice in developing a skill, understanding your tools. But a big part of it is just age and maturity. There’s something about being able to be there with the person you’re photographing, just human to human, and being able to simply capture the story their face is telling.”