One Lens, One Million Stories: Behind the Work of Photographer Iván Diáz

Greeley photographer Iván Diáz says he wants to be a millionaire. Not the kind of millionaire who measures success in dollars— but to be an artist with a wealth of stories gathered through the lens of his camera, impacting people through his photography.

If a million images and stories seem like an ambitious goal, talking with Diáz makes it seem wholly possible.

Recently, his photography contributed to the “Dolores Huerta: Revolution in the Fields/Revolución en los Campos” exhibition at the Greeley History Museum, with images of Northern Colorado farm workers. The black and white photographs are by nature gritty, reflecting difficult work and resilience in the highlights and shadows.

Diáz’s earliest photographic inspiration gave him a wealth of images to draw from.

“A lot of my influence was really from when I was growing up and my stepdad had all these outdated National Geographics around the house. I can’t even tell you how young I was. I just remember flipping through those magazines and I was so influenced and taken by the images that I saw.”

He started taking photos about 15 years ago when he was a student at the University of Northern Colorado.

“I went over to a pawn shop, and I bought a small point-and-shoot camera, and since then I’ve never stopped taking pictures,” he says. “I had that camera in my pocket, in my backpack, and whether I was at the bus stop, on campus, I was taking pictures of trees, grass, anything really,” he laughs.

A first-generation college student, Diáz earned his bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in Spanish and his master’s degree in educational leadership in higher education. He went on to work for non-profits and in higher education for about a decade. During that time, he taught himself as much as he could about photography and graduated to a Rebel XS starter camera, and from there to his current camera, a Canon R6. He took wedding, quinceañera, and engagement photos, but also sought out photojournalistic opportunities. He eventually started focusing full-time on photography.

His projects are diverse, ranging from work for The Latino Leadership Institute and Community College of Aurora to lead photographer for Thunder Mountain Amphitheater’s Under the Sun Tour and the Up in Smoke Tour. He still does event and portrait photography but is inspired by photographing people in places — whether they are Escaramuzas (Mexico’s female rodeo riders) on horseback or members of Greeley’s low-rider community.

He’s exhibited his work in Denver and Greeley and has hopes to show his work nationally.

“I recently hosted my own exhibit. I partnered with Weld Werks Brewing Co., and the Midnight Oil bookstore offered me the space to host my exhibit. I had a local DJ and even had a food truck there! I’ve been around Greeley awhile and I just wanted to give something back,” he says.

He considers himself “a continuous learner” who finds motivation and inspiration from other artists and photographers in the Greeley community. “Greeley is big enough and small enough to make those connections,” he says. “I have a community of artists, photographers, and sculptors and it’s inspiring to be in that space with them. That’s really how I learn.”

He says that it was an intro to photography class at Aims Community College that led him to shoot some of the photos that appear in the Huerta exhibition.

“One of the projects in the class was to tell a story. I connected with a friend of mine who had another connection, and they were field workers. They warmly welcomed me in.”

The resulting photography won awards and gained Diáz recognition. When someone from the Greeley community remembered those images and approached him about the Greeley History Museum’s hosting of the Smithsonian’s Dolores Huerta exhibition, he didn’t hesitate. He had met Huerta several times and was excited about sharing his work for the exhibit. In addition to images already in his collection, he went out to the cilantro and cabbage fields around the surrounding farming communities in Greeley.

“It helps that I’m bilingual. That’s my first language and I’m able to connect with them and not just on the surface level,” he says. “I take the time to listen to their story. And I think those moments are very special for me. I tell them, ‘Pretend I’m not even here. I just want to capture you guys in the moment.’”

He says the exhibition’s spotlight on the farm workers movement was meaningful to him. “My stepdad and his siblings spent a lot of time going out and doing field work, and so I understood that growing up.  My stepdad would take us around and point out the fields him and his siblings would work over the summers.”

With a focus on capturing authenticity and emotion, he’s traveled across Colorado and surrounding states and other areas taking photos and finding ways to share people’s stories. Whether he’s taking photos on Native American reservations or in Greeley, sharing those stories and traveling is something that fills Diáz’s creative well – and it’s something he hopes to explore more.

“One of my biggest goals is to travel the world to small, indigenous communities and combine my love for people, culture, and food, and to be able to capture individuals, families, and elders, in their spaces,” he says.

“I don’t want to just sit in one space, I want to be able to engage with individuals in their own space, in their own community and be part of that,” Diáz says. “To be in that space with them. For me to explore and to do all of that, it keeps my fire going.”

The “Dolores Huerta: Revolution in the Fields/Revolución en los Campos” exhibition at the Greeley History Museum runs through December 2. Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., Greeley is the exhibition’s last top on its national tour.

Photos courtesy Iván Diáz.