I remember the first time I saw Chris Summitt at a Tucson Unified School District board meeting. It was April 26, 2011, and a group of students from UNIDOS had just taken over the dais and prevented the school board meeting from continuing. It was standing room only, and the crowd that filled the board room went into the lobby and out the front doors of the the district's administration building.
Inside, students and a few MAS supporters took up most of the very front seating area of the board room, while community members packed into the rest of the room — many forced to stand on chairs and on tables in the back in order to see what was taking place. That's when I saw Summitt — his hair was long and a bit wild at the time and he sported a beard, which only made it more interesting to watch him jump over chairs for every angle he could get in that room.
Those pictures ended up being some of the best documentation of what took place that night, and if Summitt was working for a publication at the time, easy Pulitzer nomination.
Summitt wasn't alone taking photos at school board meetings and other MAS actions. Diana Uribe has been there, too, most often sitting quietly waiting for those perfect opportunities that present themselves to a photographer. She took wonderful photos of the late Judy Burns, one in particular we featured in our cover story about her untimely passing is a story itself.
This summer, Summitt and Uribe decided to create an exhibit that goes back to the early stages of the movement as a way to show support for the dismantled classes and program, and call attention to other photographers they've seen at school board meetings and MAS actions. Other photographers featured in the show include Charley Dejolie, Sarah Gonzales, Wesley Narro-Castro, Marla Pacheco, and Jose Carlos Lopez.
The show opens Saturday, Aug. 11, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Fluxx Gallery off Fourth Avenue at 414 East 9th St. Donations collected at the opening go to Save Ethnic Studies and the Raza Defense Fund, but it's also a chance to see some beautiful photography that tell an amazing story from local photographers who continue to document history. The show opens with a welcome and introduction of the work by the photographers, followed by a panel discussion with MAS teachers and students Maria Federico-Brummer, Lorenzo Lopez, Juliana Leon, and Lupita Blancart.
Continue reading after the jump for an interview with Uribe and Summitt.
What made you both decide, individually, to start documenting the meetings and when did you start?
Uribe: I’ve been involved in local Tucson politics and activism for the past two years ever since the classes started to get attacked by the passage of HB2281. I started to document the school board meetings shortly after with a small point-and-shoot camera because there weren’t very many photographers at the time that were paying any attention to the issue. Also, I didn’t know the few photographers that were taking pictures until a year ago, when we all started to talk to each other. We started to coordinate ourselves as to who would be taking pictures inside the boardroom and who would stay outside with the rest of the MAS supporters.
Summitt: First of all, it is important to note that the meetings are directly related to HB2281 which is in turn related to SB1070 so it is most appropriate if I begin with when I started photographing events surrounding SB1070, and that day is April 21st 2010. Shortly after, HB2281 was introduced and the first event I photographed pertaining to Mexican American Studies was the all night vigil held at Tucson High on May 6th 2010. One of the first actual board meetings I photographed was on Dec 14th 2010. At this meeting, the MAS students declared the symbolic death of ethnic studies due to HB2281.
When did it dawn on you that it was important to be there day and in day out at the different actions and meetings?
Uribe: On April 26th, 2011, when UNIDOS took over the dais, I was at home going over my last presentation as a Ph.D. student, the next day I would be defending my Ph.D. thesis in front of my peers, family and friends, and most importantly my committee members. This presentation was the final item on my list to complete my requirements and obtain my degree. This would have been the only TUSD board meeting I would not have attended because I was preparing for the most important presentation of my educational career. However, all of that changed when I turned on the TV for the 5 o’clock news and they were replaying the footage of UNIDOS rushing to the dais and chaining themselves to the seats. I took my point-and-shoot and immediately drove over to 1010. I knew it was that important to document this action and all others to come after. These images need to be shown because retelling it in words wouldn’t be sufficient to show the impact of these actions on our community and most of all on the students leading the actions.
Summitt: I knew these events were important to photograph from the very beginning. When SB1070 was passed, I knew that this awful part of history should be documented for people to see years in the future and remember not to repeat it. One particularly poignant meeting was when UNIDOS students took over the board and made their demands on April 26th 2011. Definitely, from then on I was at nearly every meeting or protest.
Why was it important to invite other photographers to participate in this show?
Uribe: We really wanted to show a diverse point of view of these events through the photographer’s experience. We could only achieve that diversity by inviting photographers that were MAS students, community activits/organizers, and even photographers that lived outside of Arizona to give us different vantage points and even different points of interest and importance to what they were capturing. Since a photo can represent a thousands words, we wanted to show the various voices in and outside of our community and how they are viewing this movement.
Summitt: I have photographed a lot of this struggle in the past three years, a lot. I have literally
thousands of photos of just things relating to SB1070 or HB2281. But I still don’t have everything. I’ve been to most events but not all and I don’t have all the angles either. There were some meetings in which ridiculous things happened both inside and outside of the board room, and I may have only gotten shots from one or the other. So, one answer is maximum coverage. We want to tell as much of the full story as possible. Another thing to remember is that, this fight against injustice is a community effort. We are all in this together to defeat these racist politicians and unjust laws. The politicians may have a lot of money but the community has the power of the people, we have our own skill set. One important tool at the community’s disposal is art, and photography is a form of that. In this digital age, photography has become much more accessible to the general public and our ability to document what is going on is much greater than ever before. A show with just one photographer, however prolific, just would not represent the community as well. So we tried to include as many photographers from the community as we could.
The photos you've taken - are there one or two that you are particularly proud of, which ones and why?
Uribe: I took a picture of Judy Burns standing between Mark Stegeman and Miguel Cuevas when Stegeman was booted as the board president. I love this photo because it shows how the frustration that was going on in the board at the time. I miss taking pictures of Ms. Burns because she was so honest with her expressions that you could capture her thoughts so clearly on a photo.
Summitt: Oh, there are many incredible photos I have been fortunate to capture. It is quite
difficult to choose one or two but I will try. I knew this picture was very important before I even took it. Many things changed when the students took over the school board. It was national news. I was in the right place at
the right time to dictate what the face of this action would have. I kind of knew this prior to be getting the shot so I was very careful and patient and waited until the perfect moment presented itself to me. When I finally got it, I knew I had captured something special and powerful. It is probably my most viewed photograph out of the thousands I have taken. It has been passed around the internet so many times, been featured on CNN, written about on blogs. It has done what I knew it would do before I got it. It is telling the story, our story, of the struggle for human rights here in Tucson.
What do you want to do with this show next?
Uribe: I’d like for the show to be shown all over the state and eventually all over the country. We designed these banners to do just that by having an easy set up and easy transportation of all the banners as a giant roll of paper with no messy frames to worry about. Also, although we will be displaying close to 170 pictures on these banners, we couldn’t use a lot of great pictures from all of our collections. I would like for us to publish a photo book, similar to “500 years of Chicano History” that tells the story of MAS through more photos that are accessible to everyone.
Why do you think it's important to put a show like this one and what do you hope folks will get out of it?
Uribe: This idea came into fruition in only a month because we thought it was a very serious matter that most of Tucson is uneducated about this very urgent issue. We wanted to have a show were people would be interested to know more about the MAS courses and have a will to act and conserve the program we had at TUSD. The need to educate was our first priority.