Deko and Monique pose for a portrait in a Central Avenue motel room in Albuquerque.
Blazquez withdrew from the drugs in earnest this time, and he enrolled as a history major with a minor in English at the University of New Mexico, where his fellow students were nonusers who took their studies seriously. “That helped me stay straight,” he notes. He graduated magna cum laude in 2018 and began to plan the next chapter in his life. Blazquez had always been fascinated by movies, particularly documentaries, and he decided it was time to pursue the art form seriously now that he was off drugs. He didn’t start filmmaking right away, however; he preferred to start with photography because it required him to learn how to frame his subjects, a skill that would be necessary for film as well. With his Canon Mark III camera in hand, he’d return to the War Zone
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frequently, asking his old acquaintances if he could take their portraits, meeting with rejection most of the time but getting enough subjects to consent that he was able to build a body of work. “I’m self-taught, but because of my years working with eyeglasses I already knew about lenses—how light goes through them, what a diopter is. I used what skills I already had to record the people and places that I thought were interesting. I wanted to capture the people who were leading a life of addiction, to show that lifestyle, because it’s an important part of my own story.” Blazquez’s portraits have a rawness and immediacy that can be startling, and his subjects’ enigmatic expressions reveal a variety of emotions simultaneously: pain, anger, defiance, sadness, fear. There’s very