Andrés Mario de Varona

Winning body of work

I met Aaron Garcia one day outside an Allsup’s gas station and convenience store near my home in Santa Fe. I would hang out at this particular Allsup’s for hours at a time, multiple days a week, and introduce myself to all the people that came by. I found it to be a good exercise on openness and an attempt to connect with people.

Little by little, I became known as the gas station photographer, but it was Aaron who really invited me to become part of this community. Aaron also asked me what I was doing standing around at the Allsup’s, and told me he sensed a lack of home within myself. Aaron taught me many things about myself that were kept hidden and brought them to the surface, all while bringing a smile to my face.

During our first encounter at Allsup’s, I asked Aaron if he wanted to embark on a project with me and, together, we started making a visual record of his life, along with his younger brother, Russell Garcia, and other men who lived with Aaron and wanted to participate in sharing a part of themselves without fear of shame or judgment. I would visit Aaron every day, and would learn more about him, which only drew me closer to him. I learned that Aaron’s nickname was Pillar. In fact, he was given this name for his leadership and protection regarding many travelers, drifters and people without houses. Aaron cooked for people, provided shelter for many during harsh weather and drastic changes in temperature, helped some find work, and brought relief to many through laughter and joy. I remember asking Aaron why he chose to live outside when he had a home in Kewa Pueblo (Santo Domingo Pueblo), and he told me stories of his experiences at a place called Camp Tule in California where he got to live his Native beliefs and traditions in a deeper way. When the retreat was over, Aaron remained dedicated to living in nature, choosing a spiritual victory against the social expectations surrounding living standards.

No More Mud in Our Eyes