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To live in Spanish Harlem, New York’s oldest barrio, is to confront some of the city’s most endemic problems: crime, drugs, AIDS, and chronic unemployment. Yet the mecca where Puerto Ricans first established themselves in the 1940s is now the “capital of Hispanic America” – home to 120,000 people, half of whom are Latino. Shot in the mid-to-late ’80s, Joseph Rodriguez’s superb photographs bring us into the heart of Spanish Harlem, capturing a spirit and a time that survives despite the ravages of poverty. In a now-distant landscape littered with abandoned buildings, ominous alleyways, and plagues of addiction, the residents of Spanish Harlem persevered with flamboyant style and gritty self-reliance. From idyllic scenes of children playing under the sprinklers on the playground, or performing the Bomba Plena on “Old Timer’s Day,” to shocking images of men shooting up speedballs and children dying of AIDS, Rodriguez showcases a day in the life of the barrio.
Joseph Rodriguez is a documentary photographer born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Recent exhibitions of his work have appeared at Galleri Kontrast, Stockholm, Sweden; The African American Museum, Philadelphia, PA; The Fototeca, Havana, Cuba; Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, Alabama, Open Society Institute’s Moving Walls, New York; Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery at the Walter Reade Theater at the Lincoln Center; and the Kari Kenneti Gallery Helsinki, Finland. Joseph teaches at New York University, the International Center of Photography, New York and has also taught at universities in Mexico and Europe, including Scandinavia. Rodriguez won an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship in 1993 photographing gang families in East Los Angeles. Rodriguez is the author of six photography monographs, including the widely acclaimed, East Side Stories: Gang Life in East LA (powerHouse Books, 1997).