An Artist’s Opiate Addiction Recovery Through Photography

An Artist’s Opiate Addiction Recovery Through Photography

SANTA FE, NM — For New Mexico-based mostly self-taught artist Frank Blazquez, his portrait photography,

SANTA FE, NM — For New Mexico-based mostly self-taught artist Frank Blazquez, his portrait photography, mixed-media artwork, and online video documentaries are more than just resourceful output — they are key facets of his particular dependancy restoration method. 

By means of Zoom from his studio in Santa Fe, Blazquez candidly informed me about his path from experiencing active opiate dependancy (roughly 2011 to 2015), to educating himself photography beginning in 2016, and now seeing his portrait “The Gallegos Twins, from Belen, NM” (2019) hanging in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s ​​The Outwin 2022: American Portraiture Today exhibition.

“There’s this sensation when you’re on opiates that is this warmth — like heat honey that is pouring down into your spine — that is like the warmth of emotion liked,” explained Blazquez. “When that experience dissipates, you want to get it again. I truly feel like my chasing that ease and comfort, that sensation, was what brought me to pictures.” 

Frank Blazquez, “Jorge and Lalo” (2020), Albuquerque, NM, inkjet print

As a previous optometric technician, Blazquez experienced a head start out in understanding photographic concepts. “Learning shutter speed and aperture is just about the specific exact same notion as how the human eye works with the iris and the retina — how light-weight travels as a result of a clear orifice — so I was ready to choose up all of that things really quickly.” 

When Blazquez started weaning off opiates, he turned intensely fascinated in capturing what was addiction-adjacent. “I commenced to dwell on the issues, people today, and areas I was looking at and became a extremely aware observer of small nuances and specifics,” Blazquez discussed, “like going to my drug dealer’s household and viewing his decorations — viewing small alerts or totems of other people’s life that I thought were being intriguing.”

In 2016, Blazquez commenced creating the portraiture that would grow to be his ongoing Barrios de Nuevo México: Southwest Tales of Vindication sequence, funding his initial camera purchase by supplementing university student financial loan remainders with plasma donation. “I just started undertaking avenue pictures [in Albuquerque] along Central Avenue and in the War Zone [sic] district. At that time, I didn’t have an viewers, so I just preferred to get pictures of things I wished to glance at.”  

Frank Blazquez, “Samantha on I-40” (2019), Albuquerque, NM, inkjet print

Although Blazquez’s portraits of people from his Chicanx group evidence technical proficiency, the core of his do the job is deeply rooted in an intensive identification and link with and to location and area. “Here in New Mexico, I’ve located that it is a major identifier for people to say that they’re New Mexican very first, ahead of everything else,” reported Blazquez. “Place is held seriously intensely in peoples’ hearts.”

Other factors that have captured Blazquez’s interest and defined his portraiture are gray and black prison tattoos and Southwestern symbolism and iconography, from chain website link clasps and shade combos to regional vernacular and spiritual symbols. These essential documentary specifics make it possible for Blazquez to curate counter-narratives that characterize the resilience and persistence of individuals who typically receive limited shrift in the professional artwork world. 

Frank Blazquez, “Felipe’s Reflection” (2018), Albuquerque, NM, inkjet print

In addition to his ongoing Barrios de Nuevo México collection, Blazquez’s other creative focuses are his Built in Tejas portraits, his Duke Metropolis Diaries online video documentaries, and his combined-media series Mexican Suburbs

Occupying a liminal artistic identification — insider as a Chicano and a previous addict and outsider as a transplant from Chicago — the subjects and environments that Blazquez is drawn to are not without threat. He reveals that he was mugged at the time, and critics of his perform have ranged from gallerists to armchair artwork planet observers. When New Mexico’s The Journal, now Southwest Contemporary, selected one of Blazquez’s portraits for go over art in 2020, a person smashed his windshield and remaining issue copies tossed around downtown Albuquerque like litter. 

Whilst Blazquez admits he is nourished by optimistic opinions, he basically finds the essential input he gets — no matter if as a YouTube comment or social media concept or a additional visceral range — a lot much more revealing of each the human situation and the facets that differentiate his do the job from mainstream gallery portraiture.

Frank Blazquez, “Savannah” (2019), Albuquerque, NM, inkjet print

He considered whether to proceed his function just after the aforementioned mugging. “That second was when I started out to rethink, should I keep undertaking this, is it also harmful — but then I was like, this is one thing that I have to preserve forging and pushing through,” reported Blazquez. “I’m just beginning out and it is still seriously early in my occupation to cease or veer off into a distinct genre or subject that just will not be as satisfying. I’m nevertheless really curious, and I experience sparked by this feeling of urgency.”

Some of that urgency is fueled by the cycle of poverty, addiction, and violence that is component of his portraiture and documentary subjects’ lives. One particular of the initially Blazquez portraits to catch this reporter’s eye was “Sleepy and His Daughter.” Sleepy — who Blazquez photographed hugging his young daughter whilst flashing the jail gang indicator for Los Padillas — died in February 2022. Blazquez’s portrait of Sleepy now serves as each narrative and memorial, and it is on show by July 10 at the Nationwide Hispanic Cultural Middle as component of the Tempo y Tiempo exhibition.

Beyond inventive fears, Blazquez’s function is also a suggests of own enrichment and component of his ongoing recovery journey. “I get little items of that heat [I experienced with opiate use] when I can accumulate or capture sure portraits and then do an inventory on them. Hunting back again on it correct now, I experience capturing these photos is practically like producing your individual dioramas, like little miniature worlds or environments. To me, that is what images and online video sense like — these minor dioramas or minimal worlds that deliver me consolation by just building them.”

Frank Blazquez, “Sleepy and His Daughter” (2018), South Valley, NM

About his inclusion in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s ​​The Outwin 2022 exhibition, Blazquez stated, “A good friend advised the Outwin 2022 get in touch with for entry possibility. I keep in mind studying older operates from the earlier triennials and I did not see any portraits from rural New Mexico. For that cause, I considered it would be a excellent chance to incorporate ‘The Gallegos Twins from Belen, NM’ as a piece that could potentially modify that pattern. I started off capturing portraits in a deliberate trend in 2016, so it was humbling to accomplish a Countrywide Portrait Gallery exhibition in this sort of a quick time span. Also, this total expertise was encouraging overall as previous artwork gurus instructed me that my ‘type’ of pictures would not be ideal for museum or gallery environments.”