Julio Moline's portraits of folk singer Joan Baez

Photographer Julio Moline's portraits of folk singer Joan Baez from 1981 are on display at Penelope's Cafe Books & Gallery in La Cañada Flintridge, on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / February 4, 2014)

Since his graduation from the University of Iowa nearly four decades ago, Julio Emilio Moline has fostered his passion for photography on a part-time basis, always on the sidelines.

"I kept [photography] as a side interest, and it hasn't been my primary professional pursuit until recently — when I began devoting more time to it," Moline said in an interview this week. His work is being exhibited throughout February at Penelope's Café Books & Gallery in La Cañada.

Larry Moss, who co-owns Penelope's, is a friend of Moline's, having worked with him as a landscape architect. Moss points to the dynamic nature of Moline's works as his reason for mounting the exhibit, which opened in January.

"They are interesting, and much more thought-provoking than a bowl of fruit or a beach scene with palm trees that you might see at other restaurants," Moss said. "They promote and provoke a social commentary, and that is primarily why I wanted to exhibit them."

The photographs include two separate collections with an overarching theme, "Analog Memories for a Digital Age." One collection documents a trip he took with folk singer and political activist Joan Baez to Latin America 30 years ago. The second includes photographs he took on a beach in Chile in 1977. It had been deserted when he arrived, but was suddenly swarmed by several seniors.

In 1981 Moline set out for a month-long excursion with his filmmaking partner John Chapman, Baez, and her assistant, Jeannie Murphy. The quartet spent time in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Nicaragua on a trip originally intended as a music tour for Baez. Moline produced a documentary on the journey that was aired on PBS.

The countries they visited provided a striking backdrop for the photos, Moline said, as Argentina, Chile, and Brazil were under military dictatorships, and Nicaragua was in the aftermath of a revolution. In places they visited that were under military rule, Baez was forced to perform in churches and homes rather than in public venues.

"It was very frustrating musically; on the other hand it was incredible because of the people we met," Moline said.

Along the way the group ran into Adolfo Perez Esquivel, the Argentine who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for recognition of his efforts in the defense of human rights. Additionally, they met "Lula" (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) in Brazil, who at the time was the head of the autoworkers union, and a higher-up in the Workers' Party who later served two terms as president of Brazil.

"It was an incredibly interesting, challenging trip, both socially and culturally — and I tried to capture that in the photographs," Moline said.

The second collection on exhibit at Penelope's includes pictures taken on the central coast of Chile in 1977. While walking along the deserted beach, Moline witnessed a number of senior citizens dressed in their Sunday best.

"I started taking pictures, and went through these photos a few months ago, realized their value, and decided to share them with others." A fellow artist suggested a word that captured the essence of both sets of photos — "grace."

"After she pointed it out I thought about it more and more: the grace of joy, of going into old age, and of using music to fight for social justice. That word so perfectly described both collections," Moline said.

He hopes that his photography does two things, "inspire people to ask questions, to wonder, and foster a sense of wonderment; and to evoke a sense of longing."

What: The photography of Julio Emilio Moline

Where: Penelope's Café Books and Gallery, 1029 Foothill Blvd.

When: Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., through the end of February.

More info: (818) 790-4386

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MICHAEL BRUER is a freelance writer. He can be reached at michaelbruer7@gmail.com.