Exhibition tracks 46 years of this photographer witnessing for justice and how he's still at it
Witness for justice: Could there be a more apt description of Alan Pogue? The local photographer has spent the better part of five decades seeking out people oppressed by poverty, war, or political violence and documenting their struggles so others would see them and be inspired to help them. From Texas migrant farmworkers to New Orleans residents displaced by Katrina to war survivors in Iraq, Pogue has seen firsthand people suffering in traumatic conditions and documented them for the sake of justice. As noted in his 2009 "Best of Austin" citation, "his eloquent images, which all but pulse with the subjects' heartbeats ... are not the evidence of the dispassionate observer but the advocate for their humanity. Pogue takes photographs because it matters to him, because he cares about the issues and the people whose lives are being affected." His photographic archive is so extensive as to be almost unmatched.
A new exhibition at La Peña provides some sense of the scope of Pogue's achievement; it's a retrospective of his photographic work, all 46 years of it: images of agricultural workers laboring in the fields of South Texas and those taking over land for cooperatives in northern Mexico, from inside prisons and inside the Texas Capitol, of Israel and Palestine, Old Austin and New. The show, which contains so many portraits of individuals in need, comes as Pogue himself needs help. At the end of December, he has to leave his studio/darkroom of 16 years, and he can't afford to relocate it without outside support. Friends are rallying around him, but it's hoped that the show will stimulate sales of his book, Witness for Justice, and paid speaking engagements. The exhibition opens Monday, Dec. 2, then La Peña, Planet K Austin, and Pro-Jex Gallery are co-sponsoring a reception on Saturday, Dec. 7, with catering by Milagro's, a cash bar, and copies of Pogue's books for purchase, which the photographer will gladly sign.
Of course, in the midst of his own struggles, Pogue is still seeking help for someone else. The November issue of The Texas Observer, where Pogue has been staff photographer since 1972, contains a story on Rosa Moreno Sarmiento, a factory worker in Reynosa, Mexico, whose hands were stamped off by a huge press while making large-screen TVs for LG. Pogue says that she's received no help from LG, the Mexican government, or NAFTA and that he's spent two years working on her case. In the retrospective show, he's including a special installation with Sarmiento explaining how her hands were stamped off in a video shown on an LG big-screen TV. "I want her to receive state-of-the-art prosthetic hands," Pogue says. "My big hope is that the article in the Observer will get the attention of doctors and prosthetic makers, as the cost of prosthetic hands is much greater than the cost of prosthetic legs. Either prosthetics makers or some very wealthy persons must step up if Rosa is ever to receive first-rate prosthetic hands. The cheapest I have found on the Internet were $10,000 each, and better ones can cost up to $100,000 each."
"Alan Pogue: A 46-Year Retrospective of Peace & Justice Photography" runs Dec. 2-31 at La Peña Gallery, 227 Congress. For more information, call 512/477-6007 or visit www.lapena-austin.org.