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May 31, 2023

Salinas Valley inspires native’s photography exhibit

Joe Ramos’ landscape and botanical photos on display at Triton Museum

SOLEDAD — Salinas Valley native and photographer Joe Ramos currently has an exhibition of his photographs at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara.

Ramos grew up in Soledad in a Filipino and Mexican farmworker family, living mostly in farm labor camps, and graduated from Gonzales High School in 1967. He attributes the valley’s “abundance of botanical things and the splendid landscapes” as influences of his visual vocabulary at a young age.

The mountain ranges of Gabilan and Santa Lucia, the riverbanks of Salinas River, the symmetrical rows of farming crops and other local attractions have all inspired his latest exhibition, “Close Up/From A Distance: Botanical and Landscape Photographs by Joe Ramos,” which will remain up until July 31.

“I don’t think these photographs would have been as alive as they are if not for the visual memories I acquired as a child and adolescent growing up in the Salinas Valley,” Ramos said in his artist’s statement about the exhibit. “The cycles of the botanical life of the labor camp gardens and the subtle and dramatic ever-changing light of the Salinas Valley of my young life inform the photographs in this exhibit.” 

Growing up in this kind of environment affected him deeply, and it shows throughout his photography.

Zabriskie Point South, Death Valley (Courtesy of Joe Ramos)

“When I lived in a labor camp midway between Soledad and Greenfield, I had a glorious view of the Pinnacles National Monument,” Ramos explained. “Every morning I’d glance at the Pinnacles nestled in the far distance at the base of Chalone Peak in the Gabilan mountain range. The landscape photographs in this exhibition that I took in the East Sierra’s Alabama Hills and Joshua Tree National Park harken back to my memories of the Pinnacles. The photographs taken along the San Mateo and Marin coastlines remind me of the beaches in Monterey and Pacific Grove of my childhood. The subtle and simple landscapes of my past are no less majestic than the landscape photographs in this exhibit.” 

While attending Gonzales High, Ramos was the yearbook photographer for two years. He then attended Hartnell College in Salinas for two years from 1967 to 1969, during which he studied art and photography. He also was the photographer for the Panther Sentinel and editor of the Pandem yearbook.

At Hartnell, Ramos studied photography with Joe Bragdon — a good friend of famous landscape photographer Ansel Adams — and was his photography lab assistant.

“Years later, while studying photography at Hartnell College, I became aware of the work of photographers Edward Weston and Ansel Adams,” Ramos said. “Weston’s sensuous landscapes and botanical images and Adams’ sweepingly dramatic landscapes helped to open my eyes to the possibilities of photography.” 

Ochre Detritus, Rodeo Beach (Courtesy of Joe Ramos)

From 1969 to 1971, Ramos attended San Francisco Art Institute, where he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. One of his teachers was Imogen Cunningham, whose botanical photographs inspired him while at the college. He then went on to San Francisco State University, earning his master’s degree in creative arts disciplinary studies in 1973.

Since 1970, as a result of studying photography at the San Francisco Art Institute with Richard Conrat, who was photographer Dorothea Lange’s last assistant, Ramos began taking documentary photography featuring his life experience and people he grew up with in the Salinas Valley. 

“Lange was a great influence on my documentary photography,” he said.

Ramos is planning another exhibition for his documentary photographs taken of his Filipino and Mexican family as well as friends in the Salinas Valley, Mexico and the Philippines. The exhibit will be presented by the Monterey Museum of Art in January 2024.

A reception was held May 28 for Ramos’ “Close Up/From A Distance” exhibition, which opened May 24 and runs through July 31 at the Triton Museum of Art, 1505 Warburton Ave., in Santa Clara.

Ryan Cronk
Ryan Cronk is the managing editor for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for South Monterey County and the surrounding communities.


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