Toni Cervantes | What Can I Do? About My Dreams | Election 2020 | What Matters, curated by Billy Howard |

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The title of Cervantes series is a found statement “scrawled on a dingy wall in the heart of the Tenderloin district” in San Francisco. The images she submits for our consideration mirror her activism and attempt to visually answer the question painted onto that graffitied wall.
Toni sees through her heart to visually translate the lives of our Country’s most vulnerable people with compassion and care. Her images are created out of a passion for justice and leave a lasting document for the rest of us. She acts as a guide into whatever darkness she has chosen to explore, making sure that pain and suffering are not endured alone.
One of her subjects is the critical documentation of the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. She sacrificed her own safety and comfort to live among the protestors through a brutal winter, exacerbated by attacks from both governmental and private oil security forces in order to be a witness for what was happening. It was a heroic and selfless act for truth and transparency in the best tradition of photojournalists and documentarians.
Photography alone cannot always contain the righteous zeal of her work and she branches out into forms of illustration to poeticize her subjects. In both methods she aims her lens like an arrow into the heart, lancing the boil of hatred by focusing on the dignity of her subjects. All she asks in return is that we respectfully consider their lives. It is a simple, and in so being, a powerful act of love. -Billy Howard

“What Can I Do” About My Dreams” is an expression scrawled on a dingy wall in the heart of the Tenderloin district;  a place where the forgotten and the shunned live in squalor in the alleys of one of the richest cities in the world – San Francisco. One of the narrow streets is dedicated to vibrantly painted murals, many now painted over, voicing the issues that face veterans today: men and women who were tossed away by a country they bravely stood to defend.

My project focuses on the homeless in San Francisco, the protests of the past three years spawned by the White Houses’ politics of alienation, migrants on the border between Tijuana and the United States, and the historical link between the massacre of unarmed Lakota families at Wounded Knee in 1891 to the resilience of their descendants who led the indigenous led movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at Standing Rock in 2016-2017.

The common thread that binds these stories together is the humanity of the people, their fight for racial and environmental justice, and the dreams they have for a better life.

I am a documentary photographer for social justice. In my childhood I was attracted to the underdog, the invisible: perhaps, because of my own overwhelming feeling of not belonging.

After years of working in Hollywood as a Casting Director and feeling spiritually unfulfilled, I walked out of the studio and picked up a camera. It was time to tell the stories of people who don’t have a voice, rather than advertising for consumer products that nobody needs.

You can tell a person’s story just by capturing the look in their eyes or noticing the sway of their body. I feel it is my duty to bear witness to their stories by giving others a chance to walk a mile in the moccasins of cultures they don’t understand.

I am fascinated by the resilience and community ties that are created from their lack of resources. It’s humbling and inspirational to witness their will to survive, to wake up in the morning and chose to live another day.

Today the country feels like it is moving at an accelerated pace toward an unknown direction. “What Can I Do? About My Dreams” is a concept that illustrates that all people, even the most destitute and undermined, still have the courage to fight for their dreams.

In 1877 Chief Crazy Horse of the Lakota people, a mystic and fierce warrior, had a vision. He foretold of spiritual darkness and poverty descending upon his people of Turtle Island. He dreamed of a black snake that would burrow underground and destroy life on earth. He saw black lines crisscrossing the country that have assumed the modern form of pipelines and highways across the land.

But Crazy Horse also had another vision he shared with Chief Sitting Bull during a pipe ceremony. He saw the coming of the 7th Generation that would bring hope.

“Upon suffering beyond suffering, the red nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for the sick world. A world filed with broken promises, selfishness and separations. A world longing for light again. I see a time of seven generations, when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred tree of life and the whole earth will become one circle again. In that day, those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things, and the young white ones will come, to those of my people to ask for wisdom. I salute the light within their eyes where the whole universe dwells.” – Crazy Horse from James Medicine Tree

-Toni Cervantes

tonicervantesphotography.com

All images copyright Toni Cervantes

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