"I was a gypsy, taking pictures for burritos, sleeping on people's couches," says photographer Jose A. Jimenez Jr. "It was all for photography, just to take pictures."
That level of dedication has marked Jimenez's life as a "nounphotographer." The Chula Vista native, who now lives in National City, is seldom without his camera, hoping to capture the perfect nouns: people, places and/or things.
Voz Alta Project (1754 National Ave. in Barrio Logan) is holding a retrospective exhibition of Jimenez's work, called Person, Place & Thing—Nounphotography, which opens with a reception starting at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6. The exhibition marks the first time in four years that Jimenez will show his work.
He insists that it'll be the "best of the best" of his stuff, featuring both black-and-white and color photographs from his life and travels. Some were caught serendipitously and others planned, and both types showcase Jimenez's talent for manipulating contrast, light and composition to convey different emotions.
Coining himself a "nounphotographer" works for Jimenez because it satisfies his desire for freedom.
"I didn't want to lock myself down as a San Diego photographer, as a wedding photographer, as a catalog photographer. This way I could do it all," says the 36- year-old, who's also a member of Tijuana's Clickaphoto Collective of photographers.
"If you give me artistic freedom, it's no holds barred," he says. "I feel more in sync with the camera."
That freedom has allowed him to capture seminal moments—like the May Day protests of 2006 in Tijuana and San Diego that coincided with the Great American Boycott. Latino immigrant workers and their supporters throughout the U.S. were asked to stay home from work as a protest against harsh immigration laws and to show how much the American economy relies on the immigrant workforce.
Jimenez was living in Tijuana at the time and pho tographed the day's events, gaining access to blocked-off sections of the protests by saying he was a member of the press. That white lie resulted in a collection of poignant images, many of which will be on view at his exhibition.
"I didn't realize [the protest's importance] at the time," he recalls. "You're just living life and then five, six years later, you look at the images, and I'm thinking, No one else has these photos.
"If I hadn't been living in Tijuana at the time, I wouldn't have gotten them," he adds. "I think 99 percent of my photography—and I think with a lot of photography—it's pure luck. You have to have your camera with you at all times to get that shot."
Documenting those protests, as well as other nouns in the border region, is important to Jimenez, who learned to shoot from his father and uncle when he was 5 years old. He hopes his work will dispel fears of Tijuana and show a side of the border town not often appreciated.
"Growing up here, on the border, I've met a lot of people who aren't from here," he says. "I just want to show them there's actual beauty here."