Each day, the Rivard Report calendar fills with photo assignments for Photo Editor Scott Ball and Photojournalist Bonnie Arbittier: “ice rink in Travis Park,” “Alamo Cenotaph meeting,” “JFK memorial,” and “Last Chance Ministries.”
Assignments take Ball and Arbittier all over Bexar County as they illustrate the journalism produced by seven staff reporters and several freelance writers. For the third exhibition at the Rivard Report’s Gonzales Gallery, Ball and Arbittier combed through all the photographs they made in 2019, selecting 23 of their most compelling images for a show titled Rivard Report: From the Archive.
“We wanted to find photos that were universally San Antonio,” Arbittier said of the process that guided their selections. That means not only standards like Fiesta and Dia de los Muertos, but countless moments from the everyday life of the city.
“One of the best parts about the job is you really get to learn something from every story,” Ball said of the variety of subjects they are assigned to cover, lending itself to gaining a holistic perspective.
“We’re not just looking at one beat, we’re looking at everything. We see the city, and all the news that’s made here, as a whole,” Ball said. “It’s easy to connect the dots in our job.”
After selecting their favorites, Ball and Arbittier then chose the final pictures from each other’s selections. They aimed to strike a balance between images that expressed the character of San Antonio and particularly relevant moments of 2019, Arbittier said.
Prominent San Antonians are present: Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, former Spurs point guard Tony Parker, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, former mayor and presidential candidate Julián Castro, and artist Jesse Treviño.
But just as important to the day-to-day unfolding of San Antonio’s story are the unnamed people in the images: military personnel, cyclists and climate-change activists, cowboys, World War II veterans, construction workers, children on bicycles, audience members.
Ball said Arbittier is skilled at putting her subjects at ease, particularly people not used to being photographed for publication. “She is great at connecting with people,” he said. “She can build a relationship with someone in our very limited time with them, which is an extraordinary asset. … I think Bonnie elevates them and makes them feel and understand that they are important, and they deserve to be heard from.”
Arbittier graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2014 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, after an internship in New York with famed portrait photographer Annie Liebovitz. She moved to Texas for a photojournalism internship, then started with the Rivard Report in 2017. She said Ball, who had been with the publication since 2014, gave her an excellent piece of advice when she started.
He told her, “We capture moments of time in San Antonio that will never happen again.” The thought gave her perspective beyond her initial vision for the job. “I was struck by how important this role could be to the community,” she said.
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Of her images in the show, her favorite is of Tribute to Freedom, the large-scale, engineered-steel sculpture by George Schroeder stationed at the west entrance to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. “It was that perfect point of sunset … of dusk. The light was perfect,” she said.
Beyond the visual, the image also represents “what public art can mean to San Antonio, in particular the military community,” which she sees as two essential components of the city.
As for his favorites, Ball paired two seemingly unrelated images – one of Julián Castro announcing his bid for the presidency and another showing a 5-year-old child watching television as air conditioning is being installed in his apartment at Alazán-Apache Courts for the first time.
Castro’s announcement “was this moment where San Antonio was put on the national stage, which, you know, growing up here, doesn’t happen a lot,” Ball said. Castro was born and raised in San Antonio. “He was baptized across the street from where he announced his presidency,” Ball said, not far from the public housing complex.
To see the images together, he said, “you see these are the possibilities that people have, and everyone deserves that chance.”
Both photojournalists said their goal is to capture the authenticity of the moment. Arbittier formerly worked in fashion photography, editing out wrinkles in fabric and flesh, slimming figures and otherwise manipulating images, “basically doing very inauthentic things that felt immoral,” she said.
Arbittier said that the winner of a recent national photojournalism award was disqualified because judges later found out that the winning image had been altered. “That was a huge moment to me, because it made me really appreciate the industry and understand that everyone, universally in this world, respects that authenticity.”
Arbittier and Ball’s photographs are also a way to help the nonprofit Rivard Report sustain its commitment to local journalism. While major donors will each receive a print as a gift for their contributions, members, subscribers, and the public can purchase prints for $200 each, with half the proceeds going to support the organization.
The free public reception for Rivard Report: From the Archive takes place Dec. 3 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 126 Gonzales St., in the Rivard Report’s newsroom.