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October 9, 2013

A life’s calling: Pulitzer-winning photographer shares passion with ISU students

TERRE HAUTE — When Jose Galvez photographs everyday life of Latinos in the United States, it isn’t part of an immigration project.

It’s not part of any project.

“This is my life’s calling,” said Galvez, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who has documented Latinos’ experiences in this country for more than four decades. “I photograph what I know. I photograph where I come from.”

On Tuesday, he spoke to classes at Indiana State University, and he later presented a program at University Hall Theater.

Born in Tucson, Ariz., he grew up poor, selling newspapers and shining shoes to make some money. “My world was entirely Mexican-American for the first few years of my life,” he said. He spoke Spanish at home, and then got in trouble for speaking Spanish at school (a slap on that hand with a ruler and a timeout).

That was during the mid-1950s, when there was no such thing as bilingual education or English as a Second Language classes, he said.

At one point in his young life, he found himself in a newspaper newsroom when someone wanted a shoeshine. While in that newsroom, he found his life’s calling. “I want to be here someday,” he said to himself at the time.

He became a fixture in the newsroom and at 16 was hired as a copyboy.

He studied journalism in college and eventually became a photographer at the Los Angeles Times, where in 1984 he was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for a series on Latino life in Southern California.

 Through the years, he’s continued documenting Latinos’ experiences in the U.S. — now on the East Coast. He lives in Durham, N.C., with his family.

He does not use a digital camera. Instead, he takes his pictures using black and white film. With color images, the mind focuses on processing the color, not what the picture is about, he believes. But with black and white pictures, “You have to get into the image” and figure out what the photo is saying, he said.

Just as he has for four decades, he continues to focus on Latinos in America.

A long time ago, he decided that people of color “always have someone else coming in to document who we are. I didn’t want that.”

He wanted to document his culture and his heritage. “I’m from there,” he said.

In an interview after his talk, he said that after being part of a Pulitzer-winning team in 1984, when he was 35, it was a bit of a letdown to go back to more routine assignments. The Los Angeles Times had given the team about a half-year to work on the project.

Asked what it takes to win a Pulitzer, he said, “I think it just takes a good story content.”

Commenting on the state of journalism today, he said, “It’s hard for you journalists. You’re having to do web and deal with layoffs and reductions in the news holes (space).”

College journalism programs are training students to be much more diverse.

Asked his thoughts about immigration reform, he said, “It has to be settled.”

There are an estimated 11 million people who have entered the country illegally.

“They are not going to self-deport themselves back. They are here. And we have to deal with it, and deal with it in a compassionate, humane way,” Galvez said. “We can’t have these levels of second-class citizenship or keep them in bondage, always being blue collar.”

They all have a lot to offer, he said.

The Dream Act is part of the answer, he believes. “There has to be a path to citizenship.”

Through his photos, Galvez’s goal is to educate people, and he wants Latinos “to feel a sense of pride and belonging, and that their lives are important.”

His visit to ISU was sponsored by the Hispanic Student Association and the Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Advocacy.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or


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