By Meredith Kay | Photography by Al Rendon
There is no greater honor for an artist than to have his life’s work featured in a prestigious gallery or museum as a stand-alone exhibition. For San Antonio native Al Rendón, it is the culmination of a career spanning 50 years of seeing San Antonio through his artistic, discerning lens.
Al credits his love of photography to his mother, Maria de Jesus Rendón, who was very diligent about taking pictures of her family to document their lives. Al is the youngest of five children. He has two older brothers and two older sisters and says, “My mom took pictures at all of our family gatherings. She always wanted to capture the moments that we all spent together.”
The first significant photo that he remembers taking was when he was 12 years old. He was in sixth grade at St. Mary’s Parochial School downtown, serving as an altar boy at Saturday mass. When the mass ended, he hurried over to the Alamo to watch the filming of “Viva Max” with his plastic Kodak Diana camera in tow. Trying to be inconspicuous among the media, Al was able to get an impressive shot of Jonathan Winters and Peter Ustinov rehearsing a tense scene from the movie. He recalls taking a few pictures before he was removed from the set by security, but he got the shot that began his illustrious photography career.
When Al began high school at Central Catholic, he joined the Photography Club and learned his way around the darkroom, eagerly taking assignments around campus and throughout San Antonio for the yearbook. One of his most memorable assignments was to photograph George McGovern speaking at the Alamo in 1972 during a presidential campaign tour. Al climbed up on a waste bin amid the crowd to get some shots, and when he went to develop the pictures, there was only one usable shot due to a bright spotlight in the frame from his angle. It was the very last shot on the roll. That shot, however, became his first published photo, and it became the cover photo for the Central Catholic yearbook that year.
Throughout his career, Rendón has had the opportunity to photograph celebrities, rock stars, and many influential San Antonio leaders, but it is his work capturing the Mexican, Latin, and Tejano culture that makes San Antonio unique that he is most proud of. He says, “I have always tried to capture the real essence of my Hispanic culture and the culture that has shaped our city.” His photos depict the beauty, the character, and the raw emotion of the Tejano culture and community. The images are moving and profoundly intimate.
Al became well known in the Tejano and conjunto music scene early in his career, photographing popular musicians for concert shoots, album covers, and publicity images. This led to being hired to re-shoot the cover photo for Selena’s album “Entre a Mi Mundo.” Selena and her producers weren’t happy with the photos from her first photo shoot, so they reached out to Rendón, who had made a name for himself among musicians in the industry. This led to an incredibly special relationship with Selena, her family, and her band. One of Al’s most iconic portraits of Selena even hangs in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Al has called San Antonio home his entire life. He met his beautiful wife, Liz Shelton, in 2002. They were married in 2005, and Liz, with her flowing golden hair, even modeled for Al’s “Angels” series in 2004 for the photo entitled “Angel of Serenity”.
Rendón has been a commercial photographer for 40 years now, and he has also been the official Fiesta photographer for the San Antonio Fiesta Commission for many years. He fell in love with the pageantry and horsemanship of the Charreada event when he received his first commission in 1981. He speaks with respect and reverence when he says, “I love the beauty of the women riders and the gallantry of the caballeros.” His portraits of the competitors show the majesty of the sport, and it continues to be one of his favorite subjects to photograph.
Rendón’s work is currently on display at the Witte Museum through early January. It features over 60 carefully curated images spanning his career and even houses a recreated dark room representing his studio and workspace. His retrospective art book, “Mi Cultura: ~ Bringing Shadows Into the Light: The Photography of Al Rendón” is available now at the Witte Museum and online.