One afternoon in 2012, a man drove down a residential street in Southeast Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to him, at that very moment, a nearby Google Street View camera snapped a photo of him. Years later, multidisciplinary artist and educator Felix Quintana saw this image and recognized the person in the photo: his father.

With Google Maps Street View, the focus on buildings and roads diminishes the numbers. By masking faces caught between moments, people appear almost invisible. In his practice, Quintana manipulates these Google images using cyanotype, an ancient photographic technique that produces prints coated with a Prussian tint. With the making of collages, he plays with different textures – some are created with a stucco finish, others smoother. Found materials and assembly pieces refer to signs and landmarks unique to Quintana.

Quintana, who works with the mediums of photography, poetry, drawing, and sculpture, often asks a compelling question in her work: “How can we visualize the past in the contemporary moment?” Shifting perspective and reframing narratives are themes Quintana also revisits in a recently opened solo exhibition, “Love Is the Given of Place,” at Edouard de Merlier Photo Gallery, Cypress College, and an exhibition group, “We Run Things, Things Don’t Run We”, by Slanguage Studio.

The 31-year-old artist grew up in Lynwood, where his parents sought refuge after El Salvador’s civil war. He grew up just three miles from the Watts Towers, yet there was spatial distance between him and the sculptural monument. “I feel like it’s a metaphor for how close I was still to world-class art,” he says. “It took my exploration by public transit or car to witness something as profound as the towers.”

As a child, Quintana accompanied her mother to Encino, where she worked as a babysitter. He vividly remembers being inspired by a Frank Romero mural, “Going to the 1984 Olympics.” Along the walls of the Hollywood Freeway, the images of pastel-colored automobiles, heart shapes and palm trees slowly fading in the scorching sun stood out.

The formative years included bus rides to Fairfax Avenue, a destination for skateboarders and hip-hop heads. Quintana, just a teenager, was introduced to photography, where he chronicled street events, backyard performances and graffiti. His parents, who gave him a Nikon camera for a photography class in high school, supported his efforts.

While studying studio art and photography at Cal Poly Humboldt, he experimented with self-portraiture. “I did a lot of interior work,” he says. “It was rare to photograph brown male bodies.” Quintana recorded himself performing flowing dance moves – stacking long exposure shots of light to create a mark. He found that each image revealed more proportion and depth. “The camera was like a brush or a pen,” he says. “It was very abstract.”

After graduating, Quintana worked as a teaching artist, adopting models of social practice introduced by artists and educators Mario Ybarra Jr. and Karla Diaz of Slanguage Studio, an artist-run space in Wilmington. He later earned an MFA in photography from San Jose State University.

There, Quintana discovered that cyanotypes—once used for architectural designs—could serve as an emotional and cultural model for LA. This art form would allow him to engage with subjects, emphasizing people, objects and places while adding context to signage and exteriors like walls, gates and sidewalks, that Street View often overlooked. The manual approach to cyanotypes, countering the speed of Google technology and digital features, gave Quintana time to thoughtfully develop the image.

Quintana credits James Rojas, community activist and urban planner whose concept of “Latin urbanism” examines how traditions are part of the cultural landscape as a key influence. “If you go to East Los Angeles,” shares Quintana, “you’ll notice that the houses don’t start at the front door; they start in the yard.

Quintana knows the history of photography but approaches the medium in a new way, says Vanessa Arizmendi, associate curator at the Hammer Museum.

His process is multifaceted: Quintana takes screenshots of Google images, creating digital negatives that undergo heavy editing. Then he hand coats a paper with a cyanotype solution which adds softness to the piece. When dry, it presses a piece of glass against the materials, giving a contact impression. Quintana then scrapes the surface with a blade, leaving white sketches of bushes, for example, springing from the asphalt, which capture elements of erasure and existence. In the final stages, the photo is exposed to ultraviolet light and developed in liquids.

“The images he works with, even the carvings, the palm trees and the imitation of grilles on a metal screen door, are so much about a particular type of language that some of us are familiar with,” says Arizmendi. This familiarity she describes is palpable among those close to the subject, almost as if the inscriptions were part of the collective memory.

His most streamed series, the “Los Angeles Blueprints” (2019-present), is a response to the work of Doug Rickard, a white artist and photographer from San Jose who amassed a collection of Street View images, archiving mostly communities colored along the rust belt. For Quintana, finding photos of places under surveillance opens conversations about the intervention and offers respect to pedestrians, street vendors and workers.

In his piece “Families Walking to Paramount Swapmeet” (2022), rituals in public spaces become sacred. Some of the titles derive from Quintana’s own observations, such as “Posted on an Inglewood Corner, City of Changes” (2022) or “Cholo Walking by the Pawn Shop at a Strip Mall in Compton” (2022).

He adds another dimension with collages in “Para los Lil Homies” (2019-present), some of which are in his solo exhibition. “A lot of my work is dialogue in response to literary material,” he says. The title chosen, “Love is the given of the place”, borrowed from the memoirs of Roberto Lovato, takes up Joan Didion’s reference to El Salvador: “Terror is the given of the place”.

“Even though there are struggles in these neighborhoods, there is beauty,” Quintana says. The show is a tribute to the Salvadoran diaspora, with shots, mixed media collages and installations. He adds: “It is also dedicated to Los Angeles and the places that have strongly marked and influenced me.”

Quintana is also present with Slanguage Studio as part of its 20th anniversary group exhibition. Inside the Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro, Quintana focuses on site-specific work with framed postcard cyanotypes that chart a conceptual route to Wilmington. Outside, Quintana transforms the images into a digital collage banner with a panoramic view. It serves as an “insider tour” featuring familiar sights, like the Don Hotel or the Fallas Paredes store. Quintana also chose an image of a historic Chicano mural painted on a former liquor store that local artists have restored, and the Slanguage Studio building now stands when it was an auto store. .

“I mainly wanted to honor Wilmington and those places that you would only know if you grew up there or, in my case, had a lot of friends and mentors from there who would show me those places,” he says.

Quintana has long thought about how we consume images, not just how we make them, and what tools young people have when interacting with representations of themselves. This is part of what drives him to teach digital photography at Cerritos College and art education at UCLA. “Above all, I’m counting on breaking the ceilings for the next generation that will follow me,” he says.

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