Rick Hunter’s current photography show at One9Zero6 Gallery caused many an appreciative murmur among kids and adults, artists and onlookers, during SMARTFair October 11. Prints were beyond reasonably priced at $20, and many have already been snapped up (so to speak). Before the closing reception Thursday night, Hunter promises, the walls’ empty spots will be replenished. Some are high-quality images printed on what he characterizes as “a big, huge Epson printer,” others are relics of his “old wet darkroom days from 10 years at the Express-News.” He has yet to convert altogether to digital photography, and doesn’t yet own a digital camera. Hunter plans to get one, though, for a journey next year, a long trek through Mexico and the former Aztlán to commemorate, by 2010, both the 1810 and 1910 Revolutions.
The one9zero6 show documents Hunter’s 20-year career, depicting a dizzying array of subjects and events, but all with the unmistakable perspective of Hunter’s singular consciousness. Hunter has a genius for putting himself in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time, whether it’s to memorialize the frenzied ballet of a 1990s-era battle between Sean Elliott and Charles Barkley, or to catch a flawless loop of lariat perfectly framing the eye of a young charreada rider, a shot he “didn’t even know `he` got until later,” he says, still amazed. Hunter embraces the unexpected, the happenstance, and the billion unanticipated synchronicities inherent in photography, something he learned at the dailies, where there’s no time for theory or construction, but instead a coming-together of intense focus, the laws of physics, and eye-hand coordination. In frame after frame, Hunter lets this workmanlike approach achieve miracles; this show is about the intangible, alchemical moments of visual poetry.
As Hunter and I peruse the photos at One9Zero6, he unspools an offhand biography. He grew up in Brownsville, was always an avid reader, joined the Army, was stationed at West Point, and was mostly self-taught as a photographer, taking his first pictures in Army journalism school. Venerable photographer Eddie Adams, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for a photo captioned “General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon,” was Rick’s mentor and close friend since 1988, when Hunter took the first of many workshops with him.
While talking about Adams, Rick pauses to tell a story illustrating the aesthetics and morality of taking pictures. Once in the early ’90s, Rick attended the funeral of a young boy felled randomly in a drive-by during San Antonio’s prolonged and brutal drug wars. Rick showed up at the church, with the mother’s permission, and approached “this little bitty coffin, you know, with this statue of Jesus looking down at him, framing him just right … ”
Hunter’s voice trails off. “I put the camera down. The shot was composed perfectly, but I couldn’t take it.”
He likens this to something he heard told about Eddie Adams — that while Adams was a news photographer in Vietnam, he was embedded with a company of Marines. Once during combat, Adams framed with his camera the dirty, agonized, tear-stained face of a young Marine opposite him. The Marine and photographer made eye contact over the lens, and the photographer withdrew the camera, leaving the vulnerable moment unmolested.
“He would’ve gotten another Pulitzer for that shot,” Hunter muses. “But the guy who was telling the story — he’s a retired Marine and the publisher of Parade magazine — he said, ‘You know how I knew Eddie didn’t take the picture? That Marine was me.’” Hunter pauses, moved by the memory. This knowledge — that the taking of a photograph is an act of taking, with attendant emotional costs — animates Rick Hunter’s aesthetic: precise, accomplished, and deeply humane. •
6-8pm Thu, Oct 30
1906 S. Flores