By Stephen Elliott, Hola America
A combination of humility and pride comes to mind when speaking and observing the works of long-time Davenport resident and professional photographer Jose Murillo.
On a recent winter afternoon, Murillo welcomed me into his home on Vine Street in Davenport. The brick street out front ascends steep and long, a hill on this day that had its challenges with snow and ice. He opens his gate to the front porch and with a smile and welcoming nod, he invites me into his residence.
Upon entering Murillo’s home, you turn to the left and a small room is covered in images. Photographs line his walls. Events and people are permanently captured for a moment in time – weddings, baptisms, family gatherings, sporting events.
“Sit down, sit down,” Murillo, 74, says, as he sits across from me.
I can’t help but look at the pictures, because of so many people smiling from wherever they were at that time, and what they were doing. There are photo albums in addition, photos of Murillo with famous athletes and celebrities, such as world boxing champion Michael Nunn, Mr. T, famed Davenport and San Francisco 49ers running back Roger Craig, and former heavyweight champion James “Buster” Douglas.
There are politicians, such as former President Barack Obama and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. His room has press passes hanging from the wall, lots of them, from athletic events past and present, such as the Michael Nunn-Lonnie Horn fight, or the Bix 7, just to name a few.
The late Antwun Echols, former world middleweight contender from Davenport, resides on Murillo’s walls, photos of the promising middleweight as a young man in the ring, one picture signed by Echols to Murillo. He developed a relationship with Echols, as he did with the late Quad-Cities’ boxing legend and trainer Alvino Pena.
Murillo is a neighborhood guy, and you get the sense that whatever neighborhood he is in, he would feel at home. Part of the appeal of his pictures is the feel of that person’s identity, that neighborhood feel sometimes, that shows in the faces of his subjects.
“With my pictures, I decided I could help these people, and I could take better pictures for less money, a lot less money,” he says. “That was one of the things for me being a photographer.”
Boxing happens to be one of his main forms of expression.
He’s a familiar face at the fight clubs and shows, both amateur and professional, in the Quad-Cities. Prior to that, he worked for years taking pictures for Chicago Boxing Magazine, working the Chicago fight shows.
“This is what I do,” Murillo says. “I like to do it. I’m 74 years old and I can go to the ring back and forth, taking pictures, because, it’s something in your heart that you like to do.”
His 35-year career as a photographer
Murillo retired roughly 14 years ago after the closing of the Black Hawk Foundry & Machining Co. in Davenport, where he worked for 33 years.
His true calling throughout most of his adult life has been art, his eye for the camera. Originally from Mexico City, he moved to the United States in 1969.
His wife, Luz, is cooking in the kitchen on this wintry afternoon as he speaks about his passion for pictures. They have raised three children, and now have grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He met his wife while he was in Texas picking tomatoes in the early 70s. They came back to Iowa, Murillo went to Muscatine Community College where he received a degree in welding, and he started work at the foundry.
Prior to coming to America, he worked for a newspaper in Mexico taking photos as a teenager, but never owned his own camera. The same year he came to America and Iowa City, he visited a cousin in Chicago. The visit proved to keep his camera interests alive when he traded a small television to his cousin for a Ricoh 35 mm camera.
“I said, ‘I trade you my TV for that camera,” Murillo remembers. “And, my cousin, she liked the TV and I liked the camera.”
He just kept working with his cameras while raising a family with his wife. There was the factory job that paid the bills and put food on the table, and then, there were photographs.
“When I worked at the foundry, I started to buy some of my camera equipment because I knew when I was going to retire, taking photographs was going to be my second job,” he says. “And, I started doing photography here and there.”
Murillo has done many of his photos for free, taking pictures of a lot of young amateur fighters during their boxing shows, and giving them the photographs of their fights afterwards.
For those attending the latest boxing show in the Quad-Cities on Saturday, Feb. 10, at the RiverCenter in Davenport, they may see a familiar face ringside, a man with his cameras, an artist creating his own canvas from the boxing ring.
24 Years with Hola America, and counting.
Murillo has collaborated with the newspaper Hola America since its beginning in 2000.
“It gives me great pride to be part of the Hola America team for almost 24 years. I greatly appreciate Tar and Erika Macias and all the readers who have appreciated my photographs all these years” Murillo said.
Tar Macias, the publisher of Hola America, spoke about the legacy of José Murillo in the community.
“One thing that no one can deny is the passion and commitment that Murillo has shown for 35 years for the local boxing and Latino soccer communities. And being part of the special family celebrations, capturing not only images but heartful memories.”
Murillo reflects on his own career now, and says taking photos is similar to life.
“I try to do it right,” Murillo says. “That’s the most important thing. That you try. A lot of people don’t do that. That’s the only way you can get better.”
Murillo says he still has the desire to try and to reach that photograph that always gives him the satisfaction of what he wants.
“You take the picture because you love to do it,” he says. “And, when you love to do it, it’s coming from your heart. There’s nothing that compares to that.”