Photographer Xavier Tavera mixes the magical with the mundane

Image courtesy of Xavier Tavera.


“There’s a Rorschach-like experience to this show.”

Those were the first words out of Ted King’s mouth. The Twin Cities poet was part of a panel discussion about Dulce Maria and Other Stories, the new exhibit from Minneapolis photographer Xavier Tavera.

Tavera’s images aren’t abstract. And they’re certainly not inkblot-esque. But they’re definitely ripe for personal interpretation.

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Image courtesy of Xavier Tavera.

“The work I do travels a fine line between what’s real and what’s not,” says Tavera.

There’s the portrait of an Aztec dancer in a feathered headdress with an animal skull at its center. He’s pictured in his living room, set against Venetian blinds and a wooden entertainment cabinet. A Guitar Hero controller rests against the wall.

This photograph, like others in the series, juxtaposes the magical and the mundane. And the two are tightly intertwined. Costumes give meaning to the commonplace and vice versa.

Another shot features seven family members gathered around the patriarch. It could be your typical family portrait – except for the fact that the father is dressed as a clown, face paint and all. What looks like a fantastical get-up is, in fact, the man’s work attire. It’s clowning that supports his family.

Image courtesy of Xavier Tavera.

For the viewer, there’s this subconscious desire to start filling in the subjects’ stories. What kind of woman is married to a clown? What’s dinnertime like in household of luchadoras, or Mexican wrestlers? What does a traditional Aztec dancer watch on television? Like those famed Rorschach tests, Tavera’s work prompts people to apply their own perceptions, to develop their own tales. to make connections.

"Trying to fully explain these photographs," says show curator Douglas Padilla, "is like trying to open a door with your elbows." But that doesn't mean it's not worth attempting.

Image courtesy of Xavier Tavera.

Tavera's images capture stories. And it's stories they reflect back.  Just which stories those are is open for interpretation.

Dulce Maria and Other Stories is on display at the Gordon Parks Gallery at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. It runs through Oct. 4. For more on photographer Xavier Tavera, check this out.