Roots and Reflections: Rogelio Esparza Cervantes' Photographic Exploration

Roots and Reflections: Rogelio Esparza Cervantes' Photographic Exploration
Written by: Josiah Parks
Photographed by: Iasiah G Pickens III


If there are two things that pique the interest of Tulsa photographer Rogelio Esparza Cervantes, besides photography, it is his Mexican heritage and contrast. These two themes, amongst others, define his work at his new Los Angeles residency, sponsored in partnership with A Creative House. Rogelio first arrived in LA in 2018 for separate professional work. There, for the first time, a space was open for him to explore the dimensions of his heritage and the role it took in his perception of himself and others.


“When I moved to LA, it was the first time I was in a place where Mexican culture was the culture, without having to be explained. And it was very new to me, but to me it was something so simple… I went to a dealership and I saw a guy that was my dad’s age in a business suit. That blew my mind. Because in Tulsa, usually people that are going to be in business suits that look like us are going to be my age, the first generation…but here in L.A… I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, the border crossed them.’ There are generations that have been born in L.A. There’s a place in this world where mostly every C.E.O. is Mexican.” For some reason, something so simple blew my fucking mind.”


That experience was some five years ago, but the kernel of inspiration was planted, and now in 2024, Rogelio has been given five weeks to watch it grow.


In Rogelio’s photography, nothing is an accident. Every detail in his work—from lighting, to positioning, to the subjects themselves—is thought of and carefully executed. He draws back the scrupulous world of professional advertising, his first inspiration. Yet, somewhere in the photograph, there is always a person in Rogelio’s work. A contrast between the meticulous, uniform nature of the photograph and the fluid individuality of a person were two halves Rogelio needed to put together.


“It took me a long time to see how to approach this. Finally, I was like, ‘I’ll approach it this way.’ So it’s a collaborative process where I talk to them [the subject] about the project and I say, ‘Tell me how you see yourself now, in this moment.’ And that could be how they see themselves outside, inside, anyway. The technical aspect of photography is not something I am after; it’s what I put in front of my camera that I feel like is the most significant…together with a person, that is the joy. When I’m photographing people, when in the photoshoot setting, that is the high…working with people is, at the end of the day, the thing that I love about photography.”


For him, a photograph stamps a person in time, documents who they are in a present moment, and cements their character.

“I know that in a year from now, you may be a completely different person…and now where you are now is different. It’s not a good thing. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just acknowledging it.”

Rogelio’s current project evolves with time, open to fresh ideas and inspiration. Its current name translates to “The Cactus of the North,” calling back to an old Mexican idiom, “With a cactus on your forehead,” meaning someone who looks Mexican but doesn’t behave the way a Mexican “should.” And “The North,” a common way for native Mexicans to describe someone who’s moved to America.


“This project is taking shape in the sense that it’s acknowledging old and new, past and present and future. It's modeled after a feeling like the cactus represents me, but it represents a first-generation Mexican. A feeling that we got uprooted from our home and planted in an environment that’s not natural to us. But yet, we are flourishing and thriving. With that, I want to touch in essence of where we are right now… Sometimes I feel like I’m too Mexican for Americans, and too American for Mexicans. It talks about, ‘I’m Mexican because that’s who I am; that’s my family, that’s language, that’s love, that’s everything for me.’ But I also grew up in this environment and I also got really acclimated in this environment… The reason I want to put it back to Mexicans is it’s saying, ‘We share the same root, our culture, it’s us.’ But our environment really shapes us differently.”

There is a space where Rogelio and people in similar conditions occupy. A space far from the world you live, its objects are foreign, its faces, strangers. Even further is the space you once were, strained by foggy memory and lost connections. Though his work is focused on his specific upbringing, its implications are universal.