SRO is pleased to be back for the 2010-2011 school year. To start this year off, we have an interview with our current showing artist, Tony Chirinos. His show is up until September 19, 2009. Be sure to check out our Exhibits Schedule for artist information and upcoming exhibit dates. Keep checking the blog for more interviews, highlights, events, and general information!
Tony Chirinos is Assistant Professor of Photography at Miami Dade College Kendall Campus, Miami, FL. He holds an MFA from Columbia University, New York, NY, and exhibits nationally. Tony Chirinos’ series, Fighting Cocks, explores the culture of cock fighting and its spectators. We are delighted to be showing his work and recently asked Tony a few questions:
In your series, Fighting Cocks, the subjects of your images, the people as well as the roosters, evoke a sense of pride within Colombia’s bird fighting subculture. Can you go into more detail about the people, roosters, and families that participate in bird fighting and how bird fighting is integrated into their lives?
These photographs were made on a very small island, San Andres, Colombia, which is situated about 60 miles off the coast of Nicaragua. The people of San Andres are mostly of slave decent, brought to the island by Dutch and English countries. The language is bilingual Spanish-English but most islanders prefer to use the English language. The people and families that participate in cock fighting have been doing it for many generations, learning the trade from their fathers, grandparents and/or other family members. Everyone that I have met takes so much pride in what they do; from the type of feed created for the roosters, to the way they train their birds. It reminds me of Japanese Samurais, the beauty of their kimono, their precise training and their mental focus.
In your artist’s statement, you express appreciation for the bird fighting in Colombia. What is the difference you see in Colombian’s subculture of bird fighting and the negative connotations with bird fighting in the United States, in light of the fact that bird fighting is illegal in the United States?
The negative connotation is that everyone thinks that in every fight, one of the birds dies. That’s not the case. Yes, there is death in some of the fights, but in San Andres, the fight is for fifteen minutes with two referees in the ring. Sometimes the fight is ruled a draw or there is a winner without a death. Look, we allow grown man to beat each other until usually one of the two becomes unconscious. The medical industry has proven that many years of trauma to the head leads to atrophy to the brain. We allow boxing and Mix Martial Arts to happen for the enjoyment and entertainment of the people. As for other animals, it’s hypocritical to allow horse racing and not fighting roosters. The difference is that one is for the enjoyment of the upper class and the other is for the enjoyment of mostly poor people. In both events there is gambling.
How did you become aware of bird fighting and what intrigued you to create this series?
My father made me aware of the Cock fighting culture. He was born in Cuba, migrated to Venezuela, and finally situated in Miami. At a very young age I would hear my dad tell stories about his childhood in Cuba. He would tell all sorts of stories from riding horses to working in a sugar cane plantation. All the stories were very interesting, but the one that intrigued me the most was the story of my dad participating in Cock fighting. I was so intrigued by his story, that I too, wanted to participate. Living in Miami, Florida, I could have never participated in the culture of Cock fighting because of it being an illegal practice. Finally, as an adult I had the opportunity to see first hand what this culture of cock fighting was all about. I was able to visit San Andres about twice a year and became a spectator for two years before I decided to create a project about Cock fighting. I wanted to know everything about this culture and what motivated the owners in producing the perfect fighter. As a documentary style photographer, I try very hard to impose questions to the viewer about the project rather than spelling out the answers to what they are seeing. Some of the questions that I have in mind are: why is the practice of Cock fighting associated with the Hispanic culture? How can I respect this practice the same way that horse racing is respected?
In your artist statement you state, “You see a rooster who embodies personality and reveals a stage which references the world that surrounds it”. Can you go into more detail about how cock fighting works as a metaphor for the culture that surrounds it?
Very simple, the majority of the participants are men with big egos. My observation is that cock fighting is an extension to the male phallus. There are lots of Alpha males, all after the big prize. In the real world they are after women, cars and jobs. In the cock ring they are after the top cock, money and prestige.
In which ways has working on this series affected the way you teach your photography classes?
Helping students to learn what is unique about photography, what makes a successful photograph so satisfying to look at, and being in the presence of people just like myself struggling to express themselves with the medium, has been enormously rewarding. I have grown and matured as an artist while teaching photography. My photos inform my teaching in direct and concrete ways: I constantly find myself bringing up in class the very issues that I deal with in my own artwork. Yet, I am aware that my teaching informs my photographic practice in unpredictable ways, as well. I strain to be clear in class, as it is important for me to articulate the ideas and concerns of a photographic project that are vital to artistic practice. As a result, I return to my own photography regenerated, enthusiastic and passionate, with a renewed justification of life.
Many thanks to Tony for answering our questions. Be sure to stop by and view the exhibit until September 19, 2010.