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A Native Texan Photographer Gone Pro: Juan Santillan’s Lifelong Dream

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Juan Santillan (pronounced san-te-yan) spent 21 years in the banking industry, but he’s a professional photographer these days. Juan found his way to photography via fatherhood. He didn’t pick up a camera until his first daughter, now 28 years old, was born. Like all new parents, Juan wanted to record every minute of family life. And, speaking of family, he and his lovely wife Veronica, have seven children. Yes, you read that right. Seven. That’s a boat-load of family pictures from this Texan photographer.

Juan began taking personal photos with a standard film camera, but in the midst of baby pictures, he’d find himself attracted to wild life and scenery. After developing a roll of film, he’d notice a beautiful tree or a fascinating squirrel mixed in with snapshots of babies on quilts. The unusual caught his eye, and a desire to take artistic photographs was born. Juan left banking and began his professional photography career in 2016. He now uses a high-performance digital camera.

Before the kiddos came along, and Juan was a child himself, he developed a love for old snapshots. He’d roam the rooms of relatives and study pictures of family. He loved the old photos and the stories behind them. He found it fascinating to see well-dressed relatives on their way to work. He says, “Back in those days, rubber soled shoes didn’t exist. The men wore freshly starched shirts and trousers to work. The shoes had leather soles. They all looked nice. They dressed in more formal attire for special occasions. The pictures fascinated me. It was like walking through a museum. Some of those antique photographs had color processing—all done by hand. The pictures told a history, and I loved it.”

A Native Texan Photographer Gone Pro: Juan Santillan’s Lifelong Dream

Photo by Juan Santillan

Juan enjoys history, and his photos reflect it. He’s in the process of writing a book entitled, “Texas Hands.” The book contains a collection of short stories about real people. He says, “Not all heroes wear a cape.” During the process of photographing people with their occupations, he interviews them. His book will contain their stories and images.

Santillan was born in San Antonio and lives there today. He met his wife, Veronica, in San Antonio at a Tejano night club. Their meeting would make a good romance novel. Juan’s sister dated a musician who played in a band, and she invited Juan to go with her to the nightclub to hear her boyfriend play. When they entered, a beautiful woman approached Juan’s sister and said something like, “How dare you bring a date to the dance when you’re dating my brother.” Juan’s sister replied, “He’s not my date, he’s my brother.” Long-story short, Juan’s sister married the musician, and Juan married Veronica, the musician’s sister. Confusing, right? The musician is now a double-brother-in-law. These two happily married couples began their relationship with a confrontation. Stuff you only find in romance novels!

Speaking of musicians, like his brother-in-law, Juan is also one. He collects and plays guitars and has played in a band for over 20 years. He writes his own music and prefers to sing or play Tex/Mex Conjunto and Gospel renditions.

A Native Texan Photographer Gone Pro: Juan Santillan’s Lifelong Dream

Photo by Juan Santillan

His beloved instrument is the Bajo Sexto Guitar, handmade guitar by San Antonio Luthier Martin Macias. Juan sings and plays guitar at Jerome Catholic Church in Martinez, Texas, where he also serves with ACTS on retreats for men in the music ministry.

Four of his seven children are still at home. He says, “A large family requires me to wear many hats.” He is known as a fixer. People bring him all sorts of broken items and he restores them. His skill includes auto and appliance repair. He’s also a hands-on builder. When his 10-year-old daughter wanted a pineapple themed room, he built her a wall art of pineapples.

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