Masterminds Award presented to Benitez for photos impacting Houston arts community


Jake Nyquist

Benitez smiles for the camera in his photography studio.

Irene Vazquez, Staff Writer

Chuy Benitez’s work depicts reality.

“With photography, you give visual proof to the existence of events and situations,” the photography teacher said. “When you present that proof to the right kind of political and governmental powers, you can show that poverty exists, that trash exists, that discrimination exists and that change needs to occur.”

Benitez was featured on the cover of the Houston Press Magazine’s January 2014 issue for winning the Masterminds Award. The award is presented to people and organizations that have made an impact in the Houston arts community.

Presentations at the Jan. 25 ceremony showcased the works of various winners. Choreographer Jhon R. Stronks and The Apollo Chamber Players, a string quartet, also received the award.

Benitez grew up in El Paso, and became interested in photography during high school when a friend came back from a party with pictures documenting the night.

“I was at the same party but I had no proof that I was there,” Benitez said. “That was when I realized the tangible quality of photographs. After that point, I bought my first cheap camera and started taking pictures of different events and friends.”

Benitez is currently a member of the Society for Photographic Education and a board member of the Houston Center for Photography.

“I knew that I wanted to be a photographer once I realized what I wanted to say, to communicate artistically,” Benitez said. “After I realized I wanted to communicate where I came from, my Latino culture, I started doing research and drawing inspiration from other Latino photographers.”

Benitez is known for the panoramic style of his photography.

“It’s a nod to mural painting,” Benitez said. “After the Mexican revolution, murals became a huge part of representing the past, present, and future of Mexican culture. I wanted to challenge myself to display the same kind of elaborate detail in my photography.”

After graduating from Notre Dame in 2005 and earning an MFA in Photography and Digital Media from the University of Houston in 2008, Benitez began teaching photography at SJS.

“Mr. Benitez’s works are perfectly executed,” junior Collins Yeates said. “He works hard and is very dedicated and deserving of this award.”

Benitez was previously named Best Photographer in the Houston Press Best Of awards in 2011. He is focusing a new project on the Houston cycling community.

“I became an avid cyclist in 2009. As I’ve become more involved, I’ve started paying more attention to the media coverage,” Benitez said. “Whether you think it’s bad or good, the cycling community is growing. I’m catching it right at the cusp of a lot of change that will affect how people are going to think about bicycling in the city of Houston.”

The number of people commuting on bicycle has increased by 62 percent between 2005 and 2010. He hopes to document this shift in his new project.

For Benitez, receiving a Mastermind Award is the culmination of years of dedication.

“I am proud to have such a talented and active artist as a friend and colleague,” art teacher Dan Havel said. “As a teacher who still practices his own artwork, I think one of the most valuable things we can teach aspiring art students is that you never stop making art. It just gets better. In Mr. Benitez’s work, his successes reflect the many years of time, thought, reflection and action with the camera.”