By Raymond R. Beltran
Photographer Anthony Mournian doesn’t seem to talk politics much. Photos from his Minolta 35 mm speak instead, and when some people see his black and whites from the April 9 immigration marches, they say he’s biased. He agrees, because to him, the photo of a little girl holding a sign that reads “I Am Not a Criminal” isn’t about the sign. It’s about the little girl.
“You can’t quarrel with that,” he says. “The people need to see these. The people that were there were very proud. It reminds me of the sixties.”
At the recent Fiesta del Sol, he set up a photo gallery of his work on Imperial Ave with a tarp, and a handful of people from Barrio Logan and Sherman Heights approached him to say, ‘Hey, that’s me.’
“I wanted to be a part of what I saw on t.v. as one of the grandest experiences of Mexican people, not as an act of defiance but a celebration of who we are,” he says.
Strength. Dignity. Powerful. Proud. These are the word choices he uses describing the people in his photos.
In his garage where he develops, he holds up a photo of a young couple marching that he titled “March on Pacific Highway” and says, “I like the strength of this guy and this woman. There are some very strong Mexican women.” In “Papa y Hija,” a man is enthusiastically shouting and holding up the U.S. and the Mexican flags in each hand with his daughter comfortably nestled on his shoulders. All Mournian says is “look at the trust she has in her father.” In “Today We March,” a photo taken on the street at foot level, Mournian points to the boots of the working class people who were present.
A psychologist from San Francisco, he remembers, haggled with him at the fiesta about the people in his photos, calling them a drain on the economy. Mournian wasn’t there for the political bickering.
“You could call it slanted, and you’d be absolutely right,” he says about his pieces. “But really, it’s about people who are united to be here legally, not to become hassled. [They’re] just here to work, to live … Things have become so polarized, it’s a shame.”
Ask him his take on immigration reform, and you might get a good dance on the subject. Although, what else would come from anyone today? It’s a web of national security rhetoric and tear-down-the-border utopianism that Mournian seems to view as missing the point altogether. The point? “People,” he says.
His subjects are Latino. Mournian is only half Irish from his father’s side. Hence, his last name. His mother is Mexican American from Calexico, 100 miles east of San Diego. Mournian, now a retired civil trial lawyer, grew up in National City, B Avenue, when his parents bought a home there in 1945, where his father introduced him to photography for the first time.
Rummaging through his latest work, he called the marches “something for me” because growing up second generation U.S. citizen in the forties, “you didn’t say a lot about where you came from. Spanish was not spoken,” he remembers.
During the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, he had not only been a navigator for the Air Force, keeping him at a distance from Chicano Power politics, but he delved into studying law at the University of San Diego.
“I was a straight shooter in those days,” he says. But since 1993 he’s been retired from law and now has time for his passion, photography, and agreeably laughs when people tell him that his images represent a suppressed revolutionary within himself.
“Well, I don’t know about that,” he laughs.
His passion for photography has taken him to Cuba. “It was not political trip for me in any sense,” he says. He was photographing the vintage architecture in Havana, Cuba’s capitol, which he felt would decay and disappear. Some of those photos now hang on the walls at Andres’ Cuban Restaurant (1235 Morena Blvd).
Mournian is also the editor of the monthly newsletter The Photographer’s Formulary, a source of information for experimenting photographers looking for tips, workshops, an events calendar, or just a network platform. The journal also publishes feature articles on raw talent. This month’s feature is Krista Kahl.
Knowing his way with video, he recently made an eight minute video, available on the internet, interviewing his mother, Isabel Aceves Mournian, who tells the account of how her father, the Mexican journalist Joaquin Isaac Aceves Jr., escaped from the clutches of the historical Mexican revolutionary general, Francisco “Pancho” Villa for being somewhat of a rabble rouser in opposition to Villa.
For the immigration march-es though, Mournian says he decided to leave his camera and color film at home. Black and white was the style he chose to portray, because to him, “it’s the color of history, and that’s what this was, history in the making.”
“I’m not trying to start a fight. I realized I was just telling a story, my own way,” he says. “And if people get upset, that’s just the nature of the business, and I’m not sorry.”