Art in America: IMAGING EL BARRIO

IN THE LATE 1980s, Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican photographer Joseph Rodriguez spent five years in northeastern Manhattan making pictures of the working-class Puerto Rican and black residents of Spanish Harlem, an area known affectionately as El Barrio. His photographs are counterpoints to the once pervasive depictions of a place identified widely with a supposed culture of poverty, its people the archetypes for the irredeemable black and brown subjects of late twentieth-century America’s urban crises. The fourteen largeformat color prints that were shown at the Bronx Documentary Center’s storefront gallery this past winter, accompanied by images emanating from two slide projectors at the center of the room, confront the dehumanizing effects of structural inequality and municipal disinvestment. Yet the scenes Rodriguez captured also affirm that these conditions did little to extinguish the vibrancy of kinship and other social ties at the heart of a community.

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