“El Negro,” a Persistent Photojournalist Always Capturing the News
Personality of the month
By Sandra Ríos
Jose Ortiz Moya, better known in the local journalistic world as “El Negro,” is a native of San Miguel, a tireless worker who walks the streets, never stopping, with his camera in his hands, always capturing the most relevant news and events in San Miguel de Allende.
After a career of more than 22 years, “El Negro” is thinking about retirement from the newspaper El Sol de México. He is so famous and loved by the community that he even has a mojiganga made by Leopoldo Estrada in his honor, ready to dance at El Valle del Maíz with his camera.
Sandra Ríos: Did you study photography at some point?
José Ortiz Moya: Never in my life. I learned on the street, and I like to capture the things as they are.
SR: Have you married? Do you have children?
JOM: I got married 40 years ago and I have seven children.
SR: Have any of your children been drawn to photography or journalism?
JOM: No, they do not like this job. To be a photographer is not easy; you cover a robbery, a kidnapping, a shooting, and it is hard. My children obviously used to be scared. But I do not have fear. The only one who really likes this is my granddaughter. She is only 10, but she likes it. She likes to come with me; she would say: “Are you going to a crash? I wanna go with you!” She loves it. Of course I allow her to come only when it is safe for her.
SR: How was San Miguel before?
JOM: It was very quiet. Once I left my camera on the street, and the next day when I woke up I said, “My camera!” I got up at six in the morning and there it was, in the same place I left it. That was 12 years ago.
SR: When was the first time you got a camera in your hands?
JOM: I took it from a friend and she never asked me to return it. That is how all started, 21 years ago.
SR: What is photography for you?
JOM: Journalistic photography is one thing and artistic is another. I tell my friends, look, if you are covering an event, theft, accident, or something, you should capture everything. When taking a picture of wounded people on a stretcher, you should take a picture where you can see the crashed car so you can tell what is going on there. One photo says more than a thousand words that the reporter can write. For me, it is that you must be in the moment.
SR: What was the most rewarding thing about having this job?
JOM: To do what I want to do: freedom. I have endured police abuse, but that is part of the job. They follow orders to not show what is going on in San Miguel. And I think that is wrong because despite the violence in San Miguel, the thefts, people love coming here, tourists love it, they say, “Hey, where was Beltrán Leyva captured?” And they go there to take a picture at that place. Telling the truth does not harm San Miguel; au contraire, every day what we have is more tourism.
SR: What do you think about the media these days?
JOM: I’ll be honest. Some media already have a line, and tell their journalists,“ You do this” and so some reporters work under that line. I feel that the media should not be like that. We should be concise and straight, with more research, and showing the real thing, telling the truth. Until now I haven’t gotten any line from my editor. I like my work, and sometimes I want people who do not like their jobs to give a chance to the new generation of journalist who perhaps may be better than we are.
Sometimes someone would ask me, “How is it possible that you get up at three in the morning to see a corpse? And I say, “I’d do it for the news.” I like being in the moment because if not, then it is not news.
SR: What characters have you captured with your camera?
JOM: I have covered three presidents: Calderón, Fox, and Peña Nieto. My partners would mock me because every time Calderón came, I was expected to see him to take photos of him because he was news. I remember once in the Rosewood Hotel, Calderón greeted me and people turned to me and I have the photo that proves it. I think that it doesn’t matter if you are photographing a politician, artist, or a victim of a crime, you always have to do it with respect, and in that order they will respect you.
SR: What was an important moment for you to cover?
JOM: I remember a truck crash at La Presa de la Cantera. There were eight dead people, very tragic, terrible scenes.
SR: Emotionally, how do you handle being there, covering such tragedies?
JOM: When I started and my bosses told me I would cover the death of a person, from the moment I got into the car I was feeling like vomiting all the way. It is not that easy. But I liked the job and I’m still here. And I’m about to retire, but they do not want me to because they say that I’m still good at it. They told me they would give me a five-year sabbatical, and then I can come back to work. But I already want to retire. I’m 60.
SR: You’ve received a lot of recognition for your career?
JOM: Yes, two years ago the state gave me an award for creating the photographic archive of San Miguel de Allende. And I received recognition from the Red Cross for “25 years of saving lives,” and the same from the firefighters’ headquarters. If I could make an exhibition of pure recognitions, they won’t fit on the wall.
SR: What was the last recognition you received?
JOM: On June 7 for “freedom of expression” in Dolores Hidalgo from the mayor.
SR: How does it feel to have so many awards?
JOM: A lot of satisfaction, because they know me, that I do my job very humbly.
SR: Have you exhibited your photos?
JOM: Two years ago I had an exhibition at Teatro Ángela Peralta, and I had the pleasure of having the presence of Governor Miguel Márquez Márquez, who came to inaugurate it. Someone said out there, “There is going to be just a few people,” and the theater was packed. There were 40 pictures on display and for sale to benefit the Red Cross. Then I had another one to benefit the Civic Protection Department.
SR: When do you think we can attend another of your exhibits?
JOM: That will be on September 29, perhaps at the Teatro Ángela Peralta or City Hall, because it will be to benefit the Civic Protection Department. In the exhibition you will see the Army burning drugs, searching for them in houses with their trained dogs, coming out of there with large packets. There are zone commanders who invite me to some events to take this kind of picture. When you know how to do your job, that is a door opener. The PGR also invited me to their events. They know I’m very honest, and that I will not leak any of the classified information.
SR: Are there many shootings in San Miguel?
JOM: I have covered four shootings from a year and a half to date. One in the Colonia Olimpo, another one in the Malanquín Bridge in Colonia San Antonio, and the last one in Puente del Carmen.
SR: What would you like to do once you retire?
JOM: I won’t want to know anything about ambulance or the police; I want to be home very peacefully. I’m not tired; what happens is that San Miguel has grown more and so more strange things happen. I would like to have a room to display my pictures and change them from time to time, for exhibition.
SR: What would you like to say to the people of San Miguel?
JOM: When you see a reporter or journalist, you need to let them do their job, and after, when you read the newspaper, then you can judge if they were objective or if they did it only to comply. And if they ask you for the facts, be truthful, because sometimes it wasn’t the fault of who hit, but the one who was hit.