by Kathy Zimmerer
(Montgomery Gallery, Pomona College, East Los Angeles County) In an unusual photographic series focusing on the African diaspora in Latin America, Tony Gleaton pays homage to a rich culture that is all but invisible. These superb images of people of African descent living in Latin America are filled with a quiet beauty and eloquence. A roving photographer of hidden cultures, Tony Gleaton has worked continuously on his photographs of these present day descendants of the Spanish slave trade as well as on a vibrant series exploring the myth of the American cowboy.
In 1981 Gleaton left his job as a fashion photographer in New York City to begin his photographic sojourn. He hitchhiked through the Southwest doing odd jobs and photographing cowboys. In 1986, he began photographing people of African descent in Mexico, Central and South America. Living a free, rough and tumble existence in small Latin American villages, the artist's proximity and inherent sensitivity to the culture allowed him to capture the photographic essence of his subjects.
Sea of Dreams/Mar de Suenos (1987) is a compelling example of Gleaton's mastery with the camera. A beautiful young child seems to float on a raffia mat in a haunting limbo between dawn and dusk. Equally strong is the clear gaze of a regal young woman in Black Girl/White Flower (1987). Gleaton concentrates solely on her elegant features, which are beautifully framed by the contrasting white flowers.
While Gleaton's photographs are portraits of a culture, his work contains the vagaries and complexities of life. Man and Canoe (1987) depicts a weary man briefly resting before beginning his journey. In this simple image, Gleaton manages to infuse a poetic intensity through his finesse with composition, light and contrast. The man and his canoe become a poignant symbol of survival.
An air of mystery and spirituality permeates the image of a teenage boy emerging from a lake. The figure is completely isolated and framed by shimmering water. His proud gaze has a quiet power and dignity that reverberates across time. In this evocative portrait, masterful technique permits simultaneous focusing on the subject while successfully creating a dream-like ambience.
Gleaton has continued to travel and augment this provocative series of photographs. He captures the beauty and dignity of a hidden culture by immersing himself in the daily life of his subjects. His powerful portraits provide a rich visual record of a complicated culture. Simple, straightforward and elegant, these photographs offer a proud and telling portrait of an invisible people.