By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — As an art lover, Mori Espaillat wanted to share her passion with area residents.
Espaillat and her husband, Benny, who live in Haverhill, organized an exhibit at the Essex Art Center featuring five renowned photographers from the Dominican Republic.
Titled “From the Pinhole to Digital Photography,” the exhibit features the works of Vitico Cabrera, Jose Joaquin Lama, Elka Diaz and Alex Guerrero.
“We believe art is culture and wanted to bring that to Lawrence, which has given us so much,’’ Espaillat said. “This is our way of paying it forward.’’
After the photography exhibit ends, Espaillat will be curate for “Caribbean Color and Magic,” featuring artists Ricardo-Arsenio Toribio, Victor Rafael Tavares and Edward Telleria — all from the Dominican Republic. The event will be Nov. 22 to Dec. 19. The opening reception is Nov. 22 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Essex Art Center Executive Director Leslie Costello thought “it was a great idea” when Mori Espaillat talked to her about having the work of artists from the Dominican Republic on display. In the past, Costello said artists of Dominican descent living in Lawrence have had shows at the art center and have hosted works by artists from Colombia, England and Canada.
“The photographs are beautiful and, although most of them were taken in the Dominican Republic, they have universal themes that have been modified by pinhole cameras or computers,” Costello said.
Cabrera said a pinhole camera is a box on which a hole is made with a needle. The simple instrument does not have a lens, and light from a scene passes through the hole, thus projecting an inverted image on the other side of the box.
The composition of the photographs and the colors yellow, pink, red and green are not the only characteristics that make them stand out, Costello said.
“It’s more the way they have displayed it,’’ she said. “The artists painted a gray line on the white walls where they hung their photos on white mats in square and rectangular formats.’’
In his photographs, Cabrera said he wants to capture life from birth to death. One of his favorite pictures is of a man sitting at the end of a bench at a property owned by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. While most of the image is dark, the man’s silhouette is partly illuminated by light coming into the old barn. Others on display include a boy looking through a wooden hole with only half of his face showing and a girl with a handful of sea shells.
Diaz was a professional African Haitian Dominican dancer before picking up a camera.
She said her goal as a photographer is to denounce injustices and to document the stories of long-time teachers in her native land. On display are an array of black-and-white photos showing the faces of a singer, a musician and an old man wearing a straw hat with one eye in color.
Through his images, Lama said he wants to show the lives of children. Lama’s photos in the exhibit include a little girl deep in thought in front of a bouquet of flowers at the market, a girl sucking her thumb while cuddled in her father’s arms, and children in silhouette looking at a boat floating on the ocean.
“I like to photograph children because they are the future, and the images captured are the only tangible that we will have later,” Lama said.
Cabrera said it’s important for Dominicans and other ethnic groups living in the Merrimack Valley get to see what life is like in the Caribbean island.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions and, through the photos, you can see that Dominicans are happy, humble, hard workers,” Cabrera said.
“As photographers, we have a great responsibility to represent our culture, and a picture is worth a thousand words,” Diaz said. “It’s an imprint that will be left forever.”
IF YOU GO What: "From the Pinhole to Digital Photography,'' an exhibit of works by photographers from the Dominican Republic When: Now through Nov. 15, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Saturdays and Sundays. Where: Essex Art Center, 60 Island St. ABOUT THE ARTISTS Vitico Cabrera has been a photographer most of his life. His family owned a photo studio. He has shown his work throughout the world. Alex Guerrero, a visual artist, is one of the most popular poster designers in his native country. He studied at the School of Applied Arts in Prague. Elka Diaz is one of the most prominent female photographers in Dominican Republic, although she was formally trained in traditional Dominican folk dancing and singing. Jose Joaquin Lama is known for capturing the moment in a way that stretches the imagination.