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World Arts Today features the Alleys & Ruins

Art reporter Karen McDonough from the art magazine, World Arts Today wrote an excellent story about my work and the Instituto Cervantes show, Bringing light to the dark corners

Bringing light to the dark corners

Posted by Karen McDonough on Apr 24, 2013

Photographer Xavier Nuez shows at Chicago's Instituto Cervantes

Growing up in Canada, Xavier Nuez's father told stories of being homeless as a boy in impoverished Franco, Spain in the 1940s. Leo Nuez begged strangers for money, lived under stairwells and ate scraps on the street.

Then Leo met and married, Bienve, and the couple moved to Montreal in the early 1960s with only $80. After learning English and French, Leo went to college and earned an engineering degree while raising a family.

But for Xavier, his father's vivid living on the street stories struck so deep that he feared ending up homeless. To deal with his anxiety, he ventured into rough neighborhoods after dark with his camera.

"I started finding in these places a magical quality at night," says Nuez, 48, a Chicago-based photographer. "I was able to make the ugliness go away and replace it with a fantasy vision ... to make them less oppressive."

An exhibit of his Nuez's photos, Alleys & Ruins, is on display through July 8 at Chicago's Institute Cervantes, a non-profit organization funded by the Spanish government to promote Spanish culture. His colorful rich images of vacant street corners, far off cityscapes, abandoned buildings and the like have a clean and sharp quality, some are lit with a haunting beauty.

Nuez roamed some of the roughest urban areas including Compton, California, Detroit's inner city and the dead-end, back lots of Chicago to capture his photos.

"I've been chased by violent street gangs, accosted by crazed addicts and drug dealers and been held at gun point," Nuez says. Despite the scary conditions he placed himself under, he discovered inspiration. "I found the need to dignify what has been rejected," he says.

Starting in 1991, Nuez went alone with his 50-year-old Swedish-made Hasselblad carnera, preferring film over digital photography. "The big negatives allow me to make very large crisp prints," he says, such as the 8 ft. x 10 ft. photographs in his current exhibit.

Gradually he brought with him lighting equipment and friends as these high crime areas of town were dangerous places to be alone at night. Having others nearby allowed him to take more chances and experiment creatively using lighting.

Today, he uses battery-powered lighting equipment and colored gels that he mixes with long exposures, sometimes for more than an hour, to capture the lush color in his photos. His work has been featured on ABC7 Chicago and has been called a "masterpiece" by the New York Times. Nuez's photographs have been featured in North American museums and galleries, and they're in numerous public and private collections including the University of Richmond Museum, the University of Michigan and the Vicente Fox Center of Studies, Library and Museum in Guanajuato, Mexico.

Teresa Hernando Rojo, Institute Cervantes' cultural program coordinator, saw the television piece and invited him to exhibit his work. "He brings beauty putting two worlds together," she says. It gives us an opportunity to present him as a Spanish artist and he knows the artistic community in Chicago."

Eventually, Nuez came to terms with his fear of ending up on the street. "I said to myself, 'If I end up living under a stairwell, it would be ok."

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