Who Art Miami 2020: Tony Chirinos by Ruth Shmueli

About the Author

My name is Ruth Shmueli and I am a Junior studying International Business and Management at Florida International University. My goal is to help media/publishing companies expand and grow into international markets. I love exploring different cultures through food, art, and by interacting with people. I am passionate about traveling, art, photography, and culinary arts. Photography is the main way that I express myself creatively. The purpose of my photography is to make it possible for other people to view the world from a new perspective. I believe that the world is not black and white, and being able to expose the grey areas in my photography is essential to the perception of the world around us.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is personal_photo-201.jpg
Photo Credit to Jeanette Albert, Miami Dade College Media services

Biography: Tony Chirinos

Tony Chirinos has been practicing photography for the past 34 years. He was born in Venezuela but grew up in Miami. Tony received his BFA at FIU and received his MFA at Columbia University in New York, where he later became a professor. Tony trained at the Miami Children’s Hospital as a bio medical photographer, and he later created the photography department in Baptist Health. Tony is currently the Associate Senior Professor of Photography at Miami Dade College. Tony always had an affinity for art. In High school he would specifically practice in mediums of drawing with pencil and paper, however in 10th grade he took up photography and realized that you could do more with photography than with sketching and drawing. That’s were his love for photography originated from. His primary focus is on black and white film photography. You can explore Tony Chirinos work on his website https://www.tonychirinos.com/

Get to Know Tony

Is there anything specific about the photography process that you like?

“I love the process! There isn’t a specific a specific part of it that I would say I like the most, but every part allows for someone to be creative and inventive.” Tony then proceeded to show me the innovations that he created for the photo process which allowed for easier photo processing and the production of beautiful photographs.

Do you think that social media has added or taken away from the integrity of fine arts?

“Social media definitely is good for some things, like getting your name out there, and for other purposes, but is not beneficial to photography and fine arts.” In today’s age you have people claiming to be photographers on social media using fancy cameras, but many miss the mark with elements of photography. Essentially, what is important to a camera is great lenses and knowing how to utilize it as well as your surroundings. 

Which type of photography do you prefer, black and white or color?

“My preference would definitely be Black and White film photography; it allows for a wider variety of contrast and highlights that could get lost in color photography.”

Do you believe in photoshop?

“I believe in the enhancements of photography that could be seen as ‘natural’ but not so much in doing it that would alter the photographs natural elements – for example to make a person’s eyes bright purple.”

Tony then proceeded to show me that photoshop can be done before we even take a photograph. He went on to explain that in film photography there is a technique that allows for someone to double expose an image. This creates optical illusions that look as if the photograph was photoshopped. An example of photographer that utilized double exposure photography is Dora Maar, Picassos girlfriend and muse. She created images that appear as if they were photoshopped giving them a surrealist look.

Before Tony took a photograph, he told showed me that moving objects like a table or a chair to a different angle could also been seen as altering reality in the same way photoshop does. Thus he showed that changing natural elements does not solely reside within the software of photoshop.

What are your thoughts on publishing your work in a book?

“Publishing is very difficult. If you want to self-publish, you need to have the ability to raise a lot of capital. You need to work on trying to find investors that believe in your work and what you do. Luckily I am currently working on publishing a book with the help of investors and a nonprofit center based out of New Mexico.”

“Subject matter is important, people take pictures but they don’t understand that the subject matter needs to be respected.”

-Tony Chirinos

Ready by Tony Chirinos

Key Figures

There have been 5 key figures that have had a profound influence on Tony. The first is a former high school teacher named Susan Maguire. He was inspired by her generosity as a teacher. An anecdote that Tony shared was when he was still in high school he bought an enlarger so that he could print photographs at home, however he did not have a lens yet. He was very exited and told Susan about his new purchase. He then gets called into her class on a Friday and has a box with a lens ready for him. She said, “Here is a lens that you could use with your new enlarger, and you can bring it back on Monday.” He then used it on weekends to print his photographs. Another person who had an influence on Tony was Bill Maguire of FIU, who inspired his technical photography with his night photography. Additionally, husband and wife, Ed Delvalle and Mirta Gomez of FIU, influenced Tony’s photography. Ed taught Tony all about how to be collaborative in photography while Mirta taught that learning from others is essential to growth and the fact that subject matter is important. Lastly, Thomas Roma, Tony’s professor in Columbia University, taught Tony all about the importance of articulation when explaining one’s photography.

“The dark room is where the art is finished.”

-Tony Chirinos

Photo Credit: Tony Chirinos

Context

Art Historical Context

Some artistic influences on Tony’s work include Larry Fink and Andres Kertesz. Larry Fink inspired Tony in his usage of light. Larry Fink had a love for the painter ,Caravaggio’s work and for his use of lighting in his paintings. Meanwhile, photographer Andres Kertesz was always reinventing himself. If you take a look at his work when he was living in Hungary, France and, New York, the style is so fluid that there is a new and inventive style seen throughout his projects.

Cultural Context

Tony explained that his cultural context pertains to how he visually says what people think about or should be considering. He wants people to ask questions when seeing his art. He wants the subject matter to spark questions about different aspects of culture and their serious connotations. A good example would be his body of work that talks about death and the vulnerability of life. He expanded that elements such as the aesthetics of the photograph are also very important to the quality of the work. He used an analogy relating to food that really brought together all the moving parts. He said that we can describe a photograph as a bag of chips – satisfying for a little bit, but your left with just air in the bag. While a good photograph could be described as a thanksgiving meal – it contains many layers and is satisfying once the meal is done. Tony’s photography exemplifies these ideals. His photographs are layered and culturally relevant to today’s time.

Contemporary Context

Tony considers himself a Documentar-Style photographer. Every image is real and never staged or created. Documentary photography stems from the real world, then becomes art.

Photo Credit: Tony Chirinos

Formal Elements of Art and their Correlations

In Tony’s photography we see a utilization of space, contrast and highlights. This is especially important with Black and White photography.

The photograph’s elements are enhanced with the utilization of formal elements. There is greater emphasis on shadow when trying to show a scene with a dark connotation. Meanwhile highlights are utilized when trying to convey happiness and cheerfulness.

Changes in the Artistic Work- Stylistically, Conceptually

The stylistic and conceptual change that Tony’s work went through goes hand in hand. At first, the stylistic change pertained to trying to solve the problems that arose. From a technical standpoint, he doesn’t have to think about the details of the process anymore, because of his years of experience and expertise. However, something that is constantly evolving is the question of, “How do I make the subject matter understood?”

La Familia by Tony Chirinos

Relation to a Broader Social & Cultural Context

In a broader social and cultural context, Tony deals with subjects that people don’t want to talk about. There are things that people just don’t want to address, and Tony brings it to light. For example, his work on death and vulnerability featuring “Surgical Theatre”, “Uncommon Tools”, “Farewell”, and “Requiescat in Pace”. We see the relevance of his work in today’s world, where we are living in fear of our lives due to the pandemic. No one is safe, and it really brings forward the vulnerability of our lives. We also see Tony’s philosophy with his work in the photo series “Cocks”. Cock fights are something that people look down upon, but as Tony explained,the “cock fights”  happening within society’s elite are socially acceptable. Examples of these include lawyers showing up to work in new suits and creating a social competition of a person’s value based on their appearance. Or in respect to politics, elections are considered one of the greatest “cock fights”. The reason why these are accepted, is because the game is played by the rich, not the poor. Tony’s work roots for the underdog and challenges us to do the same.

Power Nap by Tony Chirinos

Artistic Process

Below is a summary of the process for Film Photography:

  1. Take the photograph on a film camera.
  2. Go to the dark room and place the film in the reel then, place it in a special film cannister.
  3. Add water and developer at 60 degrees Fahrenheit into the film cannister.
  4. Develop for 8.5 minutes and swish the contents of the canister in a back and forth motion.
  5. Add water to the canister to wash out the remaining developer for 2 minutes.
  6. Add fixer to the cannister and swish it for 5 minutes. This removes all the unused silver hay lights. But DO NOT flush down the sink since the silver is very bad for the environment. Once this process is done look for a grey lavender color on the film to know that the process was done correctly.
  7. Perma wash is then added into the cannister. Essentially it tells the silver to get off the film and removes any excess fixer left. Discard the Perma wash when done.
  8. Photo flow is then added to remove water marks.
  9. The reels are then removed and placed in water.
  10. The film is removed from the reel and hung up to dry.
  11. Once the film has dried, it is cut and placed in clear storage pages for negatives.
  12. Next, the safe light is turned on in the darkroom.
  13. Place developer in the first tray. Stop bath in the second tray and Perma wash in the last tray.
  14. A contact sheet is made to determine which photos will be printed.
  15. The paper is light sensitive, so an enlarger is used to expose the image and the developer develops the image. The image develops when the developer is agitated in the tray.
  16. The paper then moves onto the stop bath tray where it will again be agitated until it finally reaches the Perma wash.
  17. The photograph is then washed and placed on a drying rack to dry.

Current Work

Tony is currently working on a new project centered around a trailer park in Miami. I had the chance to accompany him, and a student, Lazaro who he is collaborating with on this project, to shoot some photographs in the neighborhood. In his current work, Tony is exploring things that are unique to him, but may be ordinary to others. Tony’s philosophy when creating a body of work is to photograph and see how things develop. Location of the photograph is integral to what it becomes conceptually. Tony’s current project photographing the trailer park is conceptually developing.

My Experience

Shadowing Tony throughout the entire photography process was a great experience in order to gain insight into the world of a Fine Arts photographer. I learned many tips and tricks about photography and what it takes to be a part of the profession. My first meeting with Tony was accompanied by another student, Lazaro with which he is collaborating with for his next exhibition. We all met at a trailer park in Miami near Florida International University. We spent our time talking and photographing the trailer park.

Some of the new things I learned was the purpose of a light meter and how it works. It’s a very useful tool that allows for someone to gauge the light of their surroundings to determine what to place their exposure at. I also learned that if it’s a windy day, like the one we spent at the trailer park, then you would need to lower your ISO. Another trick I learned regards how to focus your lenses effectively when using a digital camera. The problem when using auto focus, is that the camera only registers to focus what is in the middle of the image. Therefore, if there is nothing in the middle of the image the camera is unable to focus. He showed me that if you turn the camera to an object near what you are trying to photograph and focus on that, you can then move the lens over and take the photograph you want while its on the previous focus setting.

We then met at Miami Dade College to continue to the next phase of the photographic process. Tony developed the film and then proceeded to set up for the printing process. In my opinion, this is one of the most interesting parts of the photographic process. It allows for one to be creative on how they want to portray an image. Tony set up the enlarger, exposed the paper, and then placed it in the corresponding chemicals. Tony explained that depending on how much time you place your paper in the chemicals, determines the amount of contrast and highlight you can gain from the photograph. Once the photograph was done developing, it was placed in water to rinse out the chemicals left over on the paper. Once that was done it was placed on a drying rack where it would be picked up later when it was dry.

Overall my experience working with Tony gave me greater insight into what it takes to be a Fine Arts photographer and how one needs to be a pioneer in the art world to thrive.  I saw how his work is an innovative way of showing us how we should question the world around us.

Leave a Reply