It’s impossible to walk by Folsom and 24th streets without being captivated by a series of eight enormous photos.
The 10-foot-tall photographs, known as “Corazón de la Mission,” or “Heart of the Mission,” first appeared on the building’s facade last month. In order, they’re images of Andrés Rojo, a Latino artist, bicycle repairman and the unofficial “mayor” of Balmy Alley, who was evicted from his garage earlier this year; and Ricardo Peña and Connie Rivera, passionate Aztec dancers and the owners of Mixcoatl.
Next come images of Tara L. Cartagena and Victorino Cartagena, dancers of the award-winning Fogo Na Roupa Carnaval group; and then there is Jorge Molina, with burning copal (an indigenous medicine) in his hand, known for carrying out blessings in the Mission. Last comes “Flower Lady” Denhi Donis, who is trying to avoid being evicted from her home of 15 years, and Simone Jaqués, in a white T-shirt with her head held high, who led a Black Lives Matter demonstration at Mission High School when she was 17.
All of these people are widely known in the local community, and have been covered in various Mission Local stories. The “Corazón a la Mission” community celebration will be held this Sunday at 5 p.m. Almost all the faces in the portraits will be there in real life, as well as flowers, prayer, Aztec dancing, and Brazilian samba music.
“The community here is just so incredible, especially the Latino community. That’s the unifying theme throughout the images,” said Alexa Treviño, photographer of the portraits, who works as an artist under the name LexMex. “Latinos coming together and sharing similar things that we have in common to get similar cultural connections, but we also have our own flavor, our own seasoning that we bring to the neighborhood.”
“Faces of the Mission” is also the name of the dental and surgical office that chose to hang the photos after moving to its location at 3085 24th St. four months ago. Dr. Juan Fernando Luque, owner of the clinic, was already searching for a way to redecorate the ugly gray facade of the new building after moving from his previous location in the Mission, where the clinic had operated for 15 years. The Calle 24 Latino Cultural District introduced him to Treviño.
As it turned out, Treviño had gone to Luque years ago, as a patient, to have all four of her wisdom teeth removed.
Treviño, 34, jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with the clinic. “I chose people I knew growing up here in the neighborhood. It’s kind of crazy to see how it’s evolved,” she said. She has also photographed Mission’s Carnavals in the past decade.
With that in mind, Treviño hand-picked the subjects of the photos. “I love them all,” she said, whether they bestowed glory on the Mission or symbolized its misery.
“It was really amazing for them to share that intimate moment with me,” said Treviño, who spent hours with each subject to capture their most powerful expressions and poses. “Especially as a studio portrait photographer, it’s so beautiful when people can share their true selves.”
The project is not without regrets, however. Had Treviño planned more carefully, there would have been a ninth portrait photo on the wall. “I thought I was going to have more space. And then when we were at the building, I was just like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s shrunk,’” she said.
Luque is pleased with the new look of his building. “I think it’s good for the community,” he said. He has promised to keep the photos hung for at least another year. So is Donovan Medrano, 25, a surgical dental assistant at Faces of the Mission, who was especially elated when a patient told him about how the photos had brought a lot of culture to the building.
Francisco Javier Ramos, 63, is the owner of Rosas Jabali Bistro Mexican Food downstairs. He sees the faces every day as he walks in and out of his restaurant. “Beautiful!” he exclaimed. “Of course, I like them.”
A month after the photos went up, Treviño continues to receive new photos of her masterpieces from her friends and family, as well as the models’ friends and family, whenever they pass by.