This past Wednesday, I was honored to be asked by Nacho’s wife to say a few words about him as a photographer and mentor at the service that was held in his honor at Willamette. Alongside many other close friends, colleagues and family members, I shared a few thoughts on the impact that Nacho had on my life. While all of the speakers recognized how our words would not do him justice, we agreed that the stories we shared would bring us smiles and remind us what a powerful presence he was in all of our lives.
In regards to Nacho’s photography, you can find his images on his main website or on his Flickr page. Also, Michelle (his wife) set up a blog where they have been posting news and links about how you can help their family. While this has been a tremendously emotional time for me, especially since Nacho’s passing fell on the two year anniversary of when I lost my best friend Ryan, it has been very powerful to feel so much love and support from my community. While I’ve already written a bit about Nacho’s passing, I wanted to post what I shared at the service, since it reflects a slightly different side of him. You can see them below:
Everyday before I walk into my classroom I think about Nacho. I reflect on how he used to walk into the room, beaming, often in conversation with a student. He would put various objects on the table: his phone and keys, sometimes a camera or the day’s hat, and often a toy or two, and then look up at us and smile. He had no visible agenda, he was just there for us, each and every moment.
That mindfulness was what made his photography so powerful. Nacho’s stillness allowed him to see more than what the rest of us did. He transitioned seamlessly from viewing the whole scene to isolating specific details, and all of this was done with finesse. His varied interests and open definition of beauty allowed him to create images that transcended the context or place they were taken from.
One of the first conversations I ever had with Nacho involved cameras. I entered his office as an inquisitive and semi-shy first year student, in hopes of joining the rhetoric department. I knocked on his door, and received the same warm invitation of “come in” that would become so familiar over the next three years. I entered and was greeted by a myriad of colors, images and smells, and as I rounded the corner to face where the noise was coming from and I was welcomed by a camera flash and the sound of a shutter. “Gotcha!” he announced, smiling.
Nacho’s desire to constantly capture and explore his surroundings would become much more normal for me as the years progressed. It became normal to see him carrying a camera or camera bag, or in more recent years, walking around with his iPhone in front of him, gaze fixated on the screen.
It was never that Nacho was unaware of what was going on around him, in fact it was quite the opposite. He was far more aware of what beauty lay in his surroundings that he took the time to savor it, capture it, and often share it with the rest of us. When someone would ask him why he was taking a picture of an object as “boring” as a rusty nail, he would turn back on them and ask, is it really just a nail?
The way that Nacho could look at an image and see the story is one of the greatest treasures that he shared with me. I spent many afternoons in his office, dissecting images from recent protests, his trips to puerto rico, or even my time abroad. We explored the wrinkles in a figure’s face, the positioning of the body, the way their lips were pursed or open, all to create and communicate the narrative that we saw in the images. Nacho paid attention to these details in his own work, where every image was not so much a frozen moment of time as it was an invitation into a story. For Nacho, photography was a way of speaking, and he spoke eloquently.
As students, we often claim that hanging out with our professors is awkward or weird, given that they are in a such different place in their lives, yet the moments I shared with Nacho and his beautiful family are some of my most cherished memories. A few years ago, Nacho invited me to come with his family to the First Nations’ celebration of Oregon’s 150th birthday. I had no idea what to expect, but I grabbed my camera and came along willingly. When we arrived, I was completely overwhelmed by the culture and colors that were before me, but Nacho, fearless, walked straight toward the stage where the ceremony was being narrated from. Following in his wake, I ended up with a front row seat to one of the most beautiful celebrations I had ever witnessed. Nacho was not only fearless in his pursuit of photography though, he was fearless in his life. He lived fearlessly and loved fearlessly, exuding compassion in every interaction.
Nacho’s compassion and his time were gifts that he gave as if they were as available as water, and we, his students and colleagues, drank of it whenever we could. In the time that has passed since I heard the news, which seems both like an eternity ago and just a blink of the eye, I have been overwhelmed with the love and beautiful stories that many of you have shared, both on his blog, on your Facebook walls, and in texts and emails we have exchanged. It has moved me to see that the Nacho I knew, the loving and compassionate individual who no matter how busy, had time to help me in my life, is the same Nacho that you all knew.
In these conversations, a friend shared with me a piece of wisdom that was shared with her in a recent hard time: “death is so limited.” she told me. It cannot cripple love. It cannot suppress memories. It cannot invade the soul, nor can it conquer the spirit. To me, that seemed so simple and so true. Nacho may not physically be with us any longer, but that does not stop us from remembering how he lived. It does not stop us from remembering how he loved. It cannot erase his smile from our memory, or the way that we were greeted when we saw him. I will forever remember the way that Nacho began his classes, and I will always remember the serenity of sitting in his office.
Looking out at all of you today I am so inspired, because I can see that he touched your life the way that he touched mine. Now it is our turn to live as he did and see as he saw. We must take what Nacho has taught us, and go out into the world and teach others. We must give freely of our time and our compassion to those around us as Nacho gave freely of his time and his compassion. We must be mindful of how we live and love and move in this world just as he was, and encourage others to look beyond the surface and find the beauty as he did so well in his photography and his life. We are here today to remember and honor Nacho, and I hope that as we leave here today, we can continue to remember and honor him, in every interaction that we have.