San Francisco - Interviews

RANDY "MENDY" MENDOZA - Bay Area Salsa Photographer!

Mendy the Bongocero!

Many of you might have seen Randy "Mendy" Mendoza with digital camera in hand, scanning the dance floor for the perfect shot of the dancers. Here's a little insight into this Bay Area Salsa photographer extraordinaire!

- Photo courtesy of Chris Gomez.

- Interview by Julian of

Julian: Full name, city of residence (and other details about your life you would like to mention)?

Mendy Mendoza: Randy A. Mendoza, lives in Alameda with wife of 23 years, Coco (we were married within three weeks after initial meeting) and two teenaged children (Miya, 20, sophomore at San Jose State and Ray, 16, graduated one year early from high school).

J: You're in a musician in a band, correct?
MM: Yes, I'm the singer for Ojada and I'm the bongocero and assorted percussions. Ojada plays Afro-Cuban music, salsa, reggae, Santana classics, Latin jazz and Motown.

J: What inspired you to become involved in photographing the salsa scene in San Francisco?
MM: I have always been passionate about photography. One day I was helping my son clean out his closet and I found several shoe boxes filled with my black and white photographs of Latin musicians that visited the bay area in the late 70's. Musicians like Eddie Palmieri, Chocolate, Larry Harlow, Pete and Coke Escovedo as well as a young Sheila E. After looking through those old photos the "photography bug" bit me once again.

After working for 25 years at jobs I did not particularty enjoy doing, I decided I wanted to do something I am passionate about.

I am passionate first and foremost about Cuban dance and music. I really love watching good Cuban dancers. With my passion for the music and photography it was a natural progression to photograph the Salsa scene. I love capturing the moment between salsa dancers when they exchange glances or what I call "smile of satisfaction" only meant for their dance partner at that particular moment. I don't like to shoot dancers who are "stone face" like the character in the terminator, no smiles.

J: Are you going to venture out to other cities too?
MM: Eventually, what I would like to do is to be the "premiere" salsa photographer for the whole Northern California, of course the ultimate would be to known as the "social scene" (not just the salsa scene) photographer for Northern California.

J: What strikes you the most about the Bay Area salsa scene (or dance scene in general)?
MM: Prior to photographing the dance scene I did a little observing. And what I observed was there seems to be very little interaction between the novices and the advanced dancers. I've seen a lot of novice dancers asked an advance dancer to dance only to be turned down then turned around and dance with another advanced dancer. Unity amongst the dancers??

There is one dancer I admire because of the positive vibes she projects: Pantea. Several months ago at the Dance Spectrum in Campbell, Pantea approached me and said something to the effect of "I hardly see you dance." I told her I'm have limited knowledge of patterns and therefore didn't want to bore her to death while dancing. One day I ran into Pantea at Café Cocomo and have not forgotten what she told me in Campbell; this time rather than wait for me to ask her, she grabbed me and said "since you still have not bothered to ask me to dance with you, let's go!". That is my type of person. No pretentiousness, no negative attitude.

J: From a musician's perspective, any comments about dancing on different dance timings?
MM: I started dancing "On 1" about a year ago. The funny thing is in the 70's when I was first exposed to salsa music there were no instructors period. No one teaching "On 1" or "On 2" or whatever. We were told "left, right, left" and "right, left, right". No fancy patterns; just your basic right and left open turn. I took one lesson "On 2" from Gil [Flores], and Ciro [Martinez] briefly taught me the basic "On 2" steps at an office in a gym during a casual conversation. I like dancing "On 2". It brings back the basic steps I learned in the 70's (New York style salsa).

The difference in dancing then compared to dancing now is that dancers were more courteous regarding the space dancers occupies. While dancing in the old days we confined ourselves to a small area always conscious of the dancers next to us. However today I hardly hear a dancer say "excuse me" to another dancer when bump or stepped on nowadays.

J: What type of equipment do you use to take your photos?
MM: Nowadays I like using my Sony digital camera with a 5.2 megapixel. I download my photos to my Apple G4 and to my Apple iBook. The iBook allows me to be mobile as far as presentation to potential clients. I still use my trusty ol' 35mm purchased in the early 70's (so the camera is neither autofocused nor autoexposure; everything is manual operation).

J: You've also published a book of your photographs. Any details on that?
MM: The photo book is basically a "mock" copy. I wanted a vehicle to illustrate what I can do with the photographs I have taken of various dance troupes that are currently performing in the Bay Area. There are actually several themes that I can incorporate in designing the book. Each page layout can differ, ie., each page may contain from one to more than a dozen photos depending on the type of layout chosen for the photo project.

You can email Mendy at For info on Mendy's book "ANiteOutWithMendy", go to

Questions? Email the Webmaster. Join our mailing list.

Back to main