When Dr. Ricardo Romo scouted photos that might pair well with his writings on urban Los Angeles, his search took him to an art gallery.
There he came across prints shot before 1940. A documentary historian, Romo was mesmerized. “Thank goodness somebody bothered to capture these images.”
An image of a trolley from that era became the cover photo of his 1983 book, East Los Angeles: History of a Barrio, now in its ninth printing, one of them in Spanish. Romo credits that long-ago picture-hunting expedition with inspiring him to shoot photos in the course of his research to help educate future generations. And as president of the University of Texas at San Antonio since 1999, he not only continues shooting, but now raises UTSA scholarship funds through print sales.
Over the years, Romo has traveled to places as diverse as China, Mexico and South Africa for work and vacation. In 2004, he went to Cuba for a conference on Hispanic literacy; his visit gave him a rare opportunity to visit elementary schools and to walk the streets of Havana, chatting with people he likely wouldn’t have met otherwise.
A San Antonio native who holds a doctorate in history from the University of California, Los Angeles, Romo initially balked at someone’s suggestion of selling his photos. He didn’t take them to make money.
“When I first came to UTSA, I learned how grassroots the city’s art scene is,” he says. “I got involved with ‘Foto Septiembre,’ a local festival every fall. Exhibiting my work was one thing, but I never considered selling it. I became comfortable, though, with the idea of using proceeds to help our students.”
When he travels now he says, “I try to attach an extra day onto the trip so I can photograph” people of the area.
This past summer, while in Veracruz, Mexico, Romo had the opportunity to photograph the Totonacs, an indigenous people of farmers who maintain traditional culture and religion yet encourage their young people to attend college. Their priorities — and their ability to do so much with so little — encouraged Romo and his administration to continue finding ways to serve the ever-growing student body of UTSA, a Hispanic-serving institution. Enrollment has boomed to 28,500 — more than 40 percent — under Romo’s tenure.
Romo was formerly a vice provost of undergraduate education at the University of Texas at Austin. Information about his photography is available online at www.ricardoromo.com.
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