Discipline: Visual Art – photography

Tonita Cervantes

Discipline: Visual Art – photography
Region: Berkeley, CA
MacDowell fellowships: 2020

Tonita Cervantes is a social activist and documentary photojournalist. For 20 years she operated Cervantes Nomad Casting in Los Angeles casting for commercials, Public Service Announcements, and music videos. Lists of casting credits include: The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Janet Jackson, and many others, including Green Day's Boulevard of Broken Dreams, which won the MTV Award for Best Video of the Year. Her life in Hollywood, however, did not fulfill her burning desire for social justice. She turned her passion for storytelling to the camera lens. Her first project was for Sightlife.org. She photographed blind people and donor families in India, Nepal, and Ethiopia who were recipients of corneal transplants. Through her images and storytelling, she helped increase cornea donation in those countries. Using her camera, social media live-feeds and video, she captured camp life and frontline direct-actions at Standing Rock from an Indigenous point of view.

Most recently she documented the divisive and explosive violations of human rights against migrants seeking asylum along the U.S.-Mexico border. Knowledge of the historical trauma suffered by Native Americans is absent from the educational system in the U.S. With her photographs, interviews, video short-documentary, and first-hand account of her experience at Standing Rock, she is developing materials for educational purposes to be shared with communities both Native and non-Native.



Tonita Cervantes worked in the Nef studio.

Nef Studio, the first entirely new studio built after 1937, was donated by esteemed photographer, explorer, author, and MacDowell Fellow Evelyn Steffanson Nef in 1992. Endowed funds for the studio’s maintenance in perpetuity and an annual Fellowship for photographers were given in addition to funds for construction. Mrs. Nef said she had known about MacDowell all her…

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