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Documentary photographers Dominic Chavez and Stella Johnson spoke to Class I and Class II art students on October 19, sharing the stories that led to their stunning images: A Boston Globe photographer who has shot in 45 countries, Chavez’s recent project centers on the world health crisis. Johnson’s talk outlined her recent work, living with families in Mexico and on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Both photographers’ work captures the spirit and the struggle of people in developing communities. The work of both, “Living in Other Worlds,” is also on display in the Academy’s Nesto Gallery.

“Everything is recycled,” Johnson told students about her eight months in Mexico. “If you’d seen what I saw, you’d never leave the water running in the sink again. I also stopped requesting chicken when I saw the women kill, pluck and boil it. It takes hours to pluck a chicken, and the women are fastidious in their work.”
Johnson also talked about the Day of the Dead, when the souls of the dead are believed to return to their families. She spent an evening photographing the candle-filled cemetery celebration.

Chavez, who characterizes the neighborhood of his youth as “dysfunctional,” told students about his introduction to photography: His brother bought a stolen 35 millimeter camera and, in his brother’s absence, Chavez began to learn the mechanics of the camera by disassembling it. When Chavez’s brother caught him, he told Chavez that he could try taking pictures – as long as he didn’t steal film.

Soon, Chavez photographed life in his neighborhood, including many gang members and drug users. He began, he said, to imagine pictures, to see light and, finally, to capture what he calls “the infinite moment.” He was shooting professionally for the Denver Post at 19. He’s shot in war zones and recently shot on the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. He told students that he often photographs people’s best and worst days, making responsibility in journalism essential.

“I try to make intimate pictures without stealing anything from the subject,” he said.