Together strong

By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor

Local photographer inadvertently starts a movement

(l to r) Local LGBT activists Ben Cartwright and Rick Cervantes were the inspiration for “Together Strong.” (Photo by Rikki Bahena)

Richard “Rikke” Bahena, known to many in the community as the manager of the popular local watering hole #1 Fifth Ave., is also a photographer. While he was never professionally schooled in the art of photography, he has what the business calls “an eye” for the craft. This quality, coupled with Bahena’s passion for how he “sees the beauty in all things” has resulted in a body of work that has adorned the covers and pages of various local magazines, newspapers, books and record albums over the years.

“As an artist there is nothing better than to see your work all over the place making an impact and creating something powerful,” he said. “But what I care the most is the message I have as a human being, where we all matter and deserve respect, equality and to be treated with dignity, justice, and offered the same opportunities.”

The Mexico City native recently unveiled just how good of an artist he really is — after putting into play his vision for a print ad series meant to promote upcoming Pride-related events at the bar he manages. His concept for the shoot was simple but extremely relevant.

“Since Pride was coming and the theme of Pride is ‘Allied in Action: United for Justice,’ my first thought was having my bar staff holding hands and paint their hands with different colors, to recreate the colors of the rainbow,” Bahena said. “Imagining as we were marching together, holding hands, creating a shield, making us stronger, indivisible.”

While sticking with his original artistic vision, Bahena decided instead of using his staff, he’d feature his friends Ben Cartwright and Rick Cervantes as the models for the ad. He said he chose the two local LGBT activists because aside from being well known throughout the local community, the two men also host a Pride kick-off happy hour event for “Pride-related industry folks” on #1’s back patio each year and Bahena wanted to help promote that event as well. They met up on the back patio, and he painted their hands in a layered rainbow prior to the photo shoot.

“When Rikke first discussed the concept with us, I was excited because it was the first time we really were going to do a big promotion for our annual event,” Cervantes said.

“I have been always appreciative of arts, but the most important thing is what is involved to create what we call an art piece — which could be a dance, a paint, a song, a picture — it has been always something that amazes me the most; the process of creation. The feelings involved, the perspective of the artist, the way they perceive beauty, the way they want you to perceive what they see, through their eyes, through their heart.”

After the shoot, when Bahena began editing his photos, he said he recognized the powerful message his images conveyed, but he remained focused at the task at hand: Producing the best photo he could for his full-page print ad. He forwarded a few of the finished products to Cartwright and Cervantes, and they both immediately posted the images on social media.

“Once I actually saw the photo, I knew it was something special,” Cervantes said. “It was really awesome that so many people were excited about our photo and wanted to take one of their own. It really wakes you up to the idea that the beauty of art can really move people and help create a movement.”

“It got amazing response,” Bahena said.

People were floored by the temperance of the black-and-white image of his subjects contrasted with the vivid rainbow-colored hands squarely in the middle of the frame. Requests for similar photos by others began to flood in, which Cartwright and Cervantes forwarded to Bahena.

“The ball kept growing, now we keep adding new days for all the people that want their hand painted and their pictures taken,” Bahena said. “People are getting very involved, no matter what age, gender, sexual orientation or any other labels; it is for everyone and people are actually traveling from different parts of the country to participate in Pride and also want to get their picture taken. The response has been overwhelming and it makes me very grateful and humble.”

The response became so great that Bahena decided to create a Facebook page to manage the interest. While he initially began to make one-on-one appointments, scheduling quickly became a challenge. So, following the lead of the “NOH8 Campaign,” Bahena decided to bring his equipment, paint and photo subjects all to one place at one time.

Pre-Pride photo shoots are now scheduled for Friday, July 7, and Saturday, July 8, from noon–5 p.m. at the San Diego LGBT Community Center. Photos cost $40 per person and half of the money goes to The Center.

He has named his new project “Together Strong” and hopes to continue to build on the momentum its popularity has seen in recent weeks, for months and even years to come.

“I love how our community is so full of such creative, innovative people,” Cartwright said. “So many exciting LGBTQ movements and projects come from this local community that we are lucky to be part of. While we love going out and supporting our local bars, it’s so great when a project like this is born out of a bar that can make a real impact and give back to the community. I’m grateful to Rikke for including us in this project and so happy he’s opened it up to anyone who wants to participate in it.”

Join the movement by liking his Facebook page at and details for upcoming photo shoots can be found on this page.

—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at

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