Joseph Rodriguez, born and raised in Brooklyn, is world renowned for his intimate portraits of American and global subcultures over the past four decades. In this series, Rodriguez invites us into the streets and homes of New York’s Latino district, Spanish Harlem. Taken throughout the latter half of the 1980s, the images reveal the community and family spirit, which are at the heart of the neighborhood. The portraits show residents playing card games, listening to boomboxes, and dancing in the street. Despite the presence of crime and violence never being far away, Rodriguez rejects a primary focus on poverty in favor of creating dignified portraits of the struggling area’s inhabitants.
This series would not be possible were it not for the intimacy and access that Rodriguez was granted by his subjects. Following a brush with drugs and crime as a minor, Rodriguez turned to photography to get him back on the straight and narrow. The empathy that he shares with his subjects is exceptionally powerful. Rodriguez’s Spanish Harlem allows us to walk through the troubled neighborhood at a time when people wouldn’t dare enter, and understand the essence and struggles of New York’s mecca for Puerto Rican American culture.
The series, published as a monograph by powerHouse in 2017 under the title Spanish Harlem: El Barrio in the ‘80s is a revised reprint of a 26-page cover story for the National Geographic (May, 1990). Many of the Cibachrome prints featured in the exhibition at Galerie Bene Taschen will be exhibited for the first time.
Joseph Rodriguez (b. 1951, Brooklyn, New York) started taking pictures in the mid1980s. Drawn to the social documentary style, he sought out photography in an attempt to break stereotypes and expose the world to the truthful portraits of American struggle. People are at the heart of his work and his pictures are often the product of lengthy periods spent gaining the trust of his subjects. The results are raw, gritty, and vivacious images that reveal the resilience and beauty of his subjects. Rodriguez has won several awards and his work is today housed in numerous leading institutions. His photos are regularly published in prominent newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times, Der Spiegel, and National Geographic.
Selected Public Collections:
LACMA – Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles
International Center of Photography, New York
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
The Open Society Foundation, New York