Discipline: Visual Art – photography

Tonita Cervantes

Discipline: Visual Art – photography
Region: Portland, OR
MacDowell Fellowships: 2020, 2022

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 rock and roll 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 and so 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 has documented homeless people in San Francisco, major protests, and demonstrations spawned from the murder of George Floyd, among other projects. She also documented the divisive and explosive violations of human rights against migrants seeking asylum along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Cervantes lived at Standing Rock for six months documenting the Indigenous peoples’ fight for clean drinking water and the abuses of the Dakota Access Pipeline across treaty land. 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.

Her photojournalist stories have been featured in the South {X} Southeast magazine, The Laney Tower, and SightLife Annual Reports. She has been a featured artist at the Jewell Gallery in San Francisco, Gear Box and Expressions Galleries in Berkeley, as well The Griffin Museum of Photography in Massachusetts, to name a few.

While at MacDowell in 2022, she used her photographs as an inspiration to segue into writing her memoir.



Tonita Cervantes worked in the Eastman studio.

Thanks to the generous support of MacDowell Fellow and board member Louise Eastman, this century-old farm building was reinvented as a modern, energy efficient live and workspace for visual artists. Originally built in 1915 to house a forge and provide storage when the residency program was expanding, this small barn was simply converted for…

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