BELEN — If a picture is really worth a 1,000 words, then Ronnie Torres’ vast collection of black and white photos of Belen is a novel worth reading.
Torres will have more than 300 photos on exhibit in his show, “Belen in Black and White” from 3-8 p.m., Saturday, July 29; and from 1-4 p.m., Sunday, July 30, at Studio 508 on Becker Avenue in Belen.
Torres, a former president of the Valencia County Historical Society, has been collecting black and white photos of the Hub City for more than 25 years, back when he was mayor of Belen.
“I love old pictures and the history of Belen,” Torres said. “I like to see what once was.”
Torres, who co-owns Hair Innovations in Belen, said he’s found that the Hub City continues to change, saying he’s been able to see through the photos the different uses of buildings throughout different decades.
“People will remember one thing, and other people will remember something else,” he said. “That’s what’s really cool because (the buildings) were memories for different reasons for different people.”
Torres said after going through his collection for the show, he’s inspired to create a different sort of map — a layered version of Belen — to show the difference of Belen through the decades.
While he always enjoyed his own family photos from days gone by, it wasn’t until Torres’ customers would talk to him about their own that he started collecting.
“Clair Ellermeyer and others had a lot of neat, old pictures,” Torres said. “I just started collecting. They would bring them in to me, and I’d make a copy and give them back.”
Torres said while others were more than willing to share their pictures and history with him, others would kindly refuse.
“I just hope people would reconsider because if when they’re gone and their kids throw the pictures away, I’m afraid they’ll lose the history,” he said. “If they share it with someone, and they document it, then the history will live on.
“It’s best to let other people see it,” Torres said. “What good is history if you don’t share it?”
Torres said some people might think their old photos might not be “worthy” of sharing, but he says everyone’s history is worth a walk down memory lane.
“Just because a family didn’t have a business or something like that, their photos of their family holding a matanza, being in a parade, at school — it’s all our history, our heritage of this community,” he said.
Little by little, Torres’ collection grew when people would bring him their photos. In all, he said, he probably has about 500 black and white photos — some of which are duplicates and others that aren’t very clear.
Torres’ photo collection, he says, is very diverse, including some personal photos, such as special events like numerous weddings, First Holy Communions and more.
He said nowadays, he’ll ask someone to take a picture of an old photo with their phones, and he’ll print it out.
“It’s not the same just having photos on your phone,” he said. “These old photos are so clear, and it’s so nice to be able to just handle them and look at all the details.”
As you look at this huge collection of photos, the history of the Hub City is clear as well as coincidental. The memories of what once was collides with what is here today, Torres said.
One of his favorite photos is the large black and white picture of what must be hundreds of local children packed into the Oñate Theater on Dalies Avenue. Another is a photo of an old bakery, Jenny’s, on Becker Avenue where the owner had the bakery on the first floor and they lived on the second floor.
At the show, Torres has set out sticky notes and pens for people to share their memories of a particular photo on display. The former mayor says while he knows a lot about the history of Belen, he doesn’t know everything.
“I just hope people will share their memories with me and the community,” he said. “I really want people to fill in the blanks of Belen.
“I want people to jog their memories, and to remember all the things they did back then,” Torres said. “I want them to be inspired to go home and dig out their old photos and share their history with their own kids and grandkids.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.