By Tara Golshan
Special to the Almanac
Sick in bed with a fever, 5-year-old Guillermo Rivas flipped through an old family photo album to pass the time. Entranced by the portraits of his family members, he began a lifelong passion for photography.
Mr. Rivas was born in 1948 and raised in Peru, a country where he spent his life as a network television executive, political activist, economist, professor and artist, including as a professional photographer. His photographs have been exhibited in venues from Chicago and Sydney to Beijing.
About 18 months ago, he moved to Menlo Park with his wife Zoila to live closer to his daughter Andrea, a medical student at Stanford, her husband Andrew, an American mathematician, and their newly born grandchildren. A volunteer at the Cantor Arts Center and Bing Concert Hall, Mr. Rivas looks to open a professional photography practice here.
On Saturday, July 13, he will talk about his life's work and show his photographs of his native Peru in a presentation in the Menlo Park council chambers. His photographs will be on display at the Menlo Park Library during July.
A professional photographer for about 30 years, he says he has a new theory on how to teach photography.
"Most of the photography courses in the world are more on technique ...," he says. "I teach my students how to see first, and then how to manage the camera."
The trick, he says, is to see what nobody else sees.
"When I was very young, when I was 7 years old, I started to cry the whole night because I saw a very poor old man in the streets," he says, describing his poverty-stricken homeland. Today, he says, for many, poverty is hidden, seen through the influence of the political establishment and self-interest and accepted as "part of the landscape."
"People who don't see the things around them ... forget that 30,000 children die every day in poverty -- we avoid that in our world," he says. "One of the little works of a photographer is showing that."
According to Mr. Rivas, a great photograph defies three realities: the fact that a photograph is a single moment, two-dimensional and static. A "great" photograph, he says, has history, gives the illusion that it is a "window into another world," and introduces movement.
"Good photography is a photo that surprises you," he says. For Mr. Rivas, part of this surprise involves bringing light to the wealth-disparities and political corruption in his home country and around the world.
"The eye of the photographer is to look for the places and the situations that most people are hiding from because it is too far, too poor, too exotic," he says. "That is the type of photography I like most."
Twenty-eight years ago, he was general manager of Frecuencia Latina, Channel 2, a private network based in Lima, Peru. The management, he said, decided not to show on the TV news the fingers and ears that terrorists sent the network from people the terrorists kidnapped. The terrorist group MRTA threatened Mr. Rivas and his family, putting a bomb in his house and shooting at his car. That was when he decided to change careers and live off his hobby: photography.
He transitioned quickly, he says, to becoming one of Peru's most successful advertising photographers. Then, after a battle with cancer, he decided to pursue photography as an art.
Through his experiences, he says, he learned that a "photo can change the world," shed light on struggles and bring hope to the masses.
"I am trying to get some hope in my country and not be so negative," he says. "I have found in my photography that you can see hope in the faces of the poorest."
To date, he has more than 100,000 photographs, and he wishes to share them -- as he has done with his most recent book, "Mi Patria A Colores" (My Country in Colors), a large-format volume with bilingual text.
The book demonstrates not only how much he loves his country, but also how much pain he feels about it, he says. Such work, he adds, highlights the contradictions in life.
Photography for him, he says, is like driftwood that you grasp for salvation -- "... it is my way to live, it is my passion."
Guillermo Rivas will give a presentation on his work at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 13, at the Menlo Park council chambers at 701 Laurel St. in Menlo Park. He will sign copies of his book, "Mi Patria A Colores," which will be on sale for $30. Free van service for Menlo Park seniors and people with disabilities is available by calling (650) 330-2512. Mr. Rivas' photography will be displayed during July in the Menlo Park Library foyer at 800 Alma St.