Jovanny Caballero Hernandez found his passion for photography in high school.
One of his teachers was impressed with the work he did on a project focused on his south side Milwaukee neighborhood and encouraged him to take photography courses.
“That’s when I decided photography and art were what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to choose as my college major,” he said.
Hernandez, now 22, graduated from UWM in May with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with an emphasis on photography and imaging and a minor in journalism.
His work has already collected awards and a good bit of attention.
Most recently he was the focus of a new Nō Studios mini-documentary, the first in a series titled “Creating Milwaukee,” which debuted in April. In May, he was awarded a major grant ($10,000) from gener8tor Art X Sherman Phoenix. He is also a photographer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where he began working full time as a visual journalist after graduation. And he recently won a National Headliner Award for a photo for the newspaper.
“For me, it is about storytelling, being able to tell a story with a single image,” Hernandez said.
Work grows out of cultural heritage
Most of his work, he said, grows out of his own cultural heritage, the son of immigrants from Mexico. His parents often talked about Oaxaca, where they grew up, and how they missed family there. When he was able to travel to Oaxaca, Hernandez brought his camera with him as he met his extended family and documented daily life.
On his website, Hernandez wrote of his family background. “At a young age, I understood the sacrifice my parents made in order to give me and my siblings a better life. I am not only sharing the stories of my family through art but the stories of millions of migrants who make the same sacrifice in order to achieve a better life and future for their children.”
In his portraits and other work, Hernandez, said, he celebrates the lives of people who are often written about and portrayed negatively.
“I like to tell other people’s stories, the story of a community.”
Creating an opening for dialogue
Josie Osborne, director of the Art & Design First Year program in the Peck School of the Arts, met Hernandez as a high school student at a year-end exhibition at Marquette University High School.
She and Katie Martin-Meurer, recruitment coordinator for the Peck School of the Arts, were admiring his black and white portraits of his grandparents and other older people when they overheard him talking to a fellow student.
“I heard a passionate young man talking about issues of equity, race and immigration with a fellow student” who was white and listening intently, Osborne said. “Jovanny was using the photographs to create an opening for important dialogue and patiently helping his peer to understand his family’s experience.”
Hernandez said he is grateful for the mentoring and encouragement he’s received from faculty in the Peck School of the Arts. “They have helped me make time at UWM something special. I have had great support from teachers and professors.”
Hernandez brought intense focus and passion to his work at UWM from the beginning, Osborne said. “Jovanny has made the most of co-curricular opportunities here from day one, building his resume of exhibitions, internships and jobs.”
“He has been amazing to work with and to witness as an emerging artist,” she added. “We are proud to have him going out into the world as a UWM alum.”