David Gonzalez – Photographer & Co-Editor, Lens Blog

David Gonzalez – Photographer & Co-Editor, Lens Blog


(gentle electronic music) – Hello and welcome to
the i3 Lecture Series, hosted by the Masters in
Digital Photography Program at the School of Visual Arts. We’re thrilled to have David Gonzalez as tonight’s guest speaker. David was born and raised in the Bronx where he attended Cardinal
Hayes High School. He earned a B.A. from Yale and a Master’s in Journalism
from Columbia University. Since arriving at The Times in 1990 he has served as The
Times’ Bronx Bureau Chief, Metro Religion writer,
About New York columnist, and the Central America
Caribbean Bureau Chief. Most recently, he wrote the biweekly city-wide feature column, as well as having
published a year-long look at the life of an undocumented
family in New York City. Currently David is co-editor of the New York Times Lens Blog and does the biweekly Side
Street photo-essay feature for the paper’s Metro Section. In recent years he has returned
to his photographic roots as a founding member
of of Los Seis del Sur, a collective of Nuyorican photographers who documented the South
Bronx in the 1980s. David Gonzales is one
of the essential voices that define and bring our
city to sharper focus, and we are so honored to
have him here tonight. (applause) – I’m gonna sit down a little bit. Actually I should stand before I start showing the pictures. Thank you very much
for showing up tonight. It’s good to see some familiar faces here, including my partner-in-crime,
Angel Franco, who’s also an alum of SVA, I believe, and we worked on a lot of
great stories together. This was before I picked up a camera. He had the cameras, and the undocumented story that we did, that was with Angel, the Pentacostal storefront story, where we spent a year
with the congregation. Franco was my man on that. And we got into a lot of trouble and a lot of fun, while
we were doing that, but like Jaime said, I
stumbled back into photography. I started out … I went off to college thinking
I was gonna be a doctor, and something happened along the way. I decided I didn’t wanna be a doctor, didn’t know what I wanted to do. While I was casting about, my roommate was into photography. After dinner one day
we went to the darkroom and I was like, “Oh, that’s
chemistry, I know chemistry.” I was a science nerd, (laughter)
and so, yeah, it’s chemistry, I could do that, and so I got into it, and I realized that I
really liked it a lot ’cause I found I could say things that I, I really couldn’t
express with words at all, and I could get out all these complicated feelings in my head, and my work in that
period was divided between photographs that I took just walking around the
streets in New Haven, a lot of radical, political stuff with the Puerto Rican student group, (speaking spanish) and then when I come back to the Bronx I just took pictures of the
neighborhood where we lived, or wherever I went, and … I did that very seriously, and even though I got
a degree in psychology, I did study some photography at Yale, took a couple of essential courses. And I also met one of my
early mentors, Juan Fuentes, who ran a newspaper at
Harvard called El Salvador. It was a Puerto Rican community’s paper, and I was primarily a self-taught photographer in those days, and as much as I knew chemistry, I didn’t know photography, and so I taught myself a
lot of really bad habits, and Juan Fuentes was the first person to look at my portfolio, such as it was, and do two things: say, “You’re on to something. “Why don’t you work with me?” And two, “You gotta learn technique. “You have to learn technique.” So this crazy Quixote of a man had me go to his house
in Hartford for a week and just, it was like
boot camp in the darkroom. Left and right, printing and
reprinting and reprinting, and talking about stuff, and one of the biggest
lessons I learned from Juan, actually had nothing to
do with film or paper or the darkroom. We were leaving the darkroom, which was at the San Juan Center on Park Street, in
Hartford, if you know it, and … The cops were hassling, these two cops were hassling a guy in the lot next to the center, and so Juan looks at them, looks at me, and says, “Here, take the
camera, take pictures.” Take his new, with his Nikon Fs. And I’m like, “Pero,
Juan, there’s no film.” He goes, “Take pictures.” “Juan, there’s no–” “Oyo, chico, take pictures!” So I take the camera up, empty, no film, take pictures, and the
cops leave the guy alone. I thought, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” You know, is there a
cause and effect there? But that was a very
interesting revelation for me, was the power that this, “that you’re watching,
that you’re taking notes”, as Mike Winard says, and with a camera, it
really appealed to me. So, you know, I left Yale and went to work at a
small community arts school called En Foco, which then was
a Latino photography school, and did everything we had to do. Exhibits on the street, exhibits in banks, libraries, exhibits in
El Museo Del Barrio, back when Museo Del Barrio actually showed social documentary photography. I’m talking about the early
eighties at this point, and I also had 24 hour access
to a professional darkroom, which was really the
reason I took this job. They paid 110 dollars a week ’cause I lived three blocks away and had access to a full darkroom, which was really good, and then things happened at home and I had to get a real job, so I kind of forgot about photography in the early eighties, but I drifted back. I drifted back when I went
overseas for the paper. Back then they used to pay foreign correspondents if
they used your pictures, and so, I said, “Oh, I can take pictures”, and I paid for my camera
within, you know, two months, and I started taking pictures again, but it was really hard. You know, it’s two different
parts of the brain, and so, you’re reporting, and you’re taking down notes, and then, you put down that, and you pick up the camera, and some countries, you say,
“I’m gonna take a photo”, then everybody just stands
like this looking at you. I got lots of pictures in
Northern Central America, people just standing like this. So, that was a challenge, but what happened was, you know, slowly I started getting back into my, into my photography from that, and the really big moment for me, the shift for me, was in 2009 when I got a scanner, and I hauled out all my old negatives, and I started scanning stuff, and that was really instructive. It was like a time machine. Emotionally, I felt like
I was back in the moment. At least those that can remember, I was a little wild back in those days, but I started seeing things, and the benefit of looking at old work when you have some experience, is that you look at it
with very different eyes, and like, the stuff that you
liked when you were a kid, you’d say, “I must’ve been high (chuckles) “to like that,
’cause that don’t look good”, and then, the stuff that you pass by, you’re like, “Damn, well, I
didn’t see this picture before”, and there’s one, the picture
that I’m best known for is one of those, where it stayed in a
contact sheet for 30 years, unseen by me, until I scanned it, and what happened was, I started scanning, and then my editor at
the time, Joe Sexton, suggested I do a cover story
for The Metropolitan section, based around these black and white images of the South Bronx, primarily, and I wrote an essay for it. Now, I’ve worked on a lot
of really big projects with the paper, some really high-profile stuff. Nothing that I did at the paper, in my entire career,
equaled the reaction I got to those photographs in that essay, and it was basically
about how I graduated. I went off to Yale to become a doctor, and instead, I came back as
a long-haired photographer. Being that I was one of the few people in my family to ever go to college, my folks were mortified by the fact, I think they would rather
I’d been a musician. My father was an amateur musician, so he was cool with that, but a photo– I mean you know, listen, the
communities that we came from, the photo– as franconos, the photographer is the guy that takes communion pictures. You know, it’s the guy that, you know, you go there and you kneel down, and go like this, and you have Jesus hovering
over you in the background, and you know, you look like an innocente. That’s what they thought was photography, and about maybe eight months
before my father died, I actually sat down with him and pulled out the books
that influenced me, and so, I pulled out the Walker Evans, I pulled out the Friedlander,
I pulled out the Winogrand, and I said, “This is photography. “This is what I wanna do”, said he who had very little experience, but I think my father got an inkling of it that what I was trying to do is not be the guy on the corner, you know, corner photo studio, but to do something different, and I don’t think that
he ever quite got it to be honest. He passed away about eight
months after that in March, but those images of
that time and that essay sparked a lot of interest in that, and what happened was the
paper asked me to start doing photographs with some of my columns. First online, and then, in print and that’s eventually how the City Blog turned into Side Street,
which is what I do now, every other week, and it’s basically, you know, a black and white picture
with a 750-word column. I’ve taken two color pictures, and I’ve done like 80 of them now, maybe a few more, but I’ve taken two color pictures. One I was doing a piece on graffiti, and I figured, “That’s kinda stupid “to have this really beautiful
piece in black and white”, and then, the other one
was not that long ago. A piece on these women protesting
for Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican political prisoner, and the scene was just so
goddamn colorful, I said, “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna
put this in black and white”, ’cause it just popped in color, and so, we ran it like that, but primarily, it’s in black and white. I shoot in color and I de-saturate images, technical parts of it. I’m the kind of photographer, I know enough about what I need to do. I don’t get too bogged down in gear. I mean, I have the gear
that I need to do the job, and what I do, I don’t consider what I do to be photojournalism, to be honest. I’m a, you know, photographer, and I spend a lot of time
thinking about photography, and I try to take pictures everyday, even if it’s just with my phone, which is not bad for a phone camera. Actually, you know, the seven, but I just try to think visually and keep my eye active the whole time. Now, as a journalist, you know, having had originally no intention of becoming
a journalist, okay, you know, I always like to
throw references that I do that, you know, kinda like see, but I was a photographer. When I got into writing,
my writing’s visual. It was always visual, and the other thing was I loved working with
photographers at the paper ’cause we’d collaborate on stuff. You know, I have colleagues
who like, you know, send in an assignment after
they’ve done the reporting, and I was like, “You’re stupid.” The pictures aren’t gonna
jog with the reporting. You’re gonna miss stuff, and if you really mistreat
your photographer, the photographer’s gonna see stuff that he or she is not
gonna tell you happened. So you’re gonna be out of luck, but I was very fortunate to work with some really wonderful photographers. Primarily with my, like I said,
my partner-in-crime, Angel, but you know, there are others
that I worked closely with, and I think my writing
has helped my photography because my writing told
me about storytelling and about narrative, and it gets to the point that when I’m thinking about
the image for my column now, I’m thinking, “Does this tell the story?” ‘Cause sometimes your favorite image is not the one that tells the story. The one that tells the story
is the one you gotta use. Your favorite image, you
might be able to use it in some other context, but it makes you think critically, and I think having experience in both, in visual and written, I think both compliment each other, and they strengthen me in different ways. Looking at photography and
journalism, and what I do, I mean, a lot of us were
educated as journalists to think of this content of objectivity as a very real standard, supposedly. When in fact, I mean, but a lot of us were trained in classical objectivity, was the point of view of a white male, upper class, ivy league
educated editor, often, and that is seen as the default position, which means a lot of other stuff, If that’s the default position, you can imagine how other
things get, get shifted around, and you know, the other thing that got me, growing up in the South Bronx, when it was burning,
when there were gangs, and no, I didn’t see
drugs in my neighborhood when I was a kid, we saw
the neighborhood junkie, but that was about it,
and people sniffing glue. We didn’t have guns in our neighborhood, we had a lot of poor people,
we had a lot of fires in our neighborhood, we had
a lot of abandoned buildings, had people eating government cheese, but we also had a full
life, a full community, and I think people forget that, and my profession has
been guilty, I think, of equating black and brown disfunction with serious journalism. That, you know, talking
of communities of color, we’re talking about photography, you know, we’re gonna
show people broke down. We’re gonna show them vulnerable. I’m not saying you don’t have to, but, you know, and I’m not
gonna get into naming names. Some of you already know the
people I’m talking about. There’s a problem with that because it basically fetishes poverty, and continues to treat us as people who are … Incapable or unworthy of
telling our own stories, and I don’t buy that. I do not buy that. Now granted, you’re talking to somebody who’s a senior writer
at the New York Times, and ivy league degrees,
and all this other stuff, but I don’t buy it. I think it’s a specious argument because the fact is, we’re all shaped by our experiences. Everything that shapes us,
we bring it to the table, whether we’re aware of it or not. Ideally, we’re aware of it, so we can check ourselves
when we’re doing stories, and saying, “Is this the right thing “or am I falling onto some
preconceived notions?” But, you know, you have to
be alert about these things, and again … It’s a question of what I see, and I started doing
this as a photographer. You know, everyone talks about
getting agency to people. That’s a fancy way of
just saying, you know, “Meeting people where they’re at “and explain the reality of their lives”, ’cause if not we exonocize people. I was at the Nat Geo
seminar a couple years ago, and … Lauren Greenfield Sanders
showed work in progress and she’s gonna be the
one to work on wealth and things like that, and she was showing some slides, and she showed one slide of a prostitute, of a woman who worked
at a brothel in Nevada, white woman, fully
clothed, still photograph. This is, the image had
to speak for itself. She then, begins to explain how this woman had gone to college, had a degree in sociology
or in social work, but found she could make more money working in a legal brothel than working in social work. She then, shows later on, a video at a black strip club in Miami, and shows a black woman wearing
a thong and nothing else on her knees, picking up dollars. The minute the woman opens her mouth, you can tell, this is
someone who is educated. She presented herself in a certain way that just told you, “This
is a very different person. “There’s a story there, obviously.” However, no effort was
made to get that story out. The still photograph of
the white prostitute, the photographer felt compelled to explain this woman
had a college degree, whereas, the black stripper, on her knees, picking up dollar bills, no such explanation was given. Although Ruddy Roye did
ask at the end of it, “What’s up with that?” You know, a bunch of us did. There weren’t that many of us, actually, that you know, you could
count the people of color on two hands, actually, at that event. That’s the kind of stuff that you know, whether it’s with my own work, whether it’s with my comrades in Los Seis, or whether it’s as the co-editor of Lens, which has taken the game to
a very different level now, that’s what guides me. You know, what are we presenting here? You know, we get pitched
stuff all the time of, you know, intrepid photojournalists going some places and you know, giving us stuff that ain’t new. It’s kinda like going over the same stuff and I get very uneasy about these things that trafficking in misery
without any context or just like, thinking, “This is what we have to show, “when we show swarthy people, “that they have to be
miserable, obviously.” Some of the best pictures
I saw of Africa last year, was like this guy did a series
on barbershops in Africa, and it was great. It was great, it was visually dazzling. It was like, you were bombarded by pop culture, traditional culture, and you know, that’s Africa. I mean, it’s a freaking continent, with a whole bunch of countries, not just one thing, but you know, stuff like that. So, you know, that’s the common thread is, for me is challenging
the established narrative in whatever way I can. I can be a smart-ass. I can be difficult, and
I can be hard-headed. I know that, but this is what I try to do. I mean, my background, I’m Puerto Rican, raised in the South Bronx, educated in Catholic schools, I’m still a practicing Catholic, and I came up in a blue collar family, and all those things affect who I am. All those things affect
how I look at the world, whether I realize it or not. Ideally, one should be
aware of these things ’cause they could, it could
influence you for good and it can influence you for bad also. I mean, it could wind
you to certain things, so you gotta be aware of those things, but you know, if you look at the stuff that I do for myself, and this is kinda fun, I
gotta thank Jaime for this ’cause I almost never
talk about my photography, except when we have our
exhibits with Los Seis and then, you know, I’ll talk about it, but you know, I spend most of my day either doing my column, where
the column speaks for itself, or talking about other
people’s photography. (participant speaking) Oh I got ’em, I’m about to, I’m about to. Don’t worry, I got
pictures here, don’t worry. (laughter)
But you know, you know, all these things shaped me So, what do I look at? I look at the Bronx, I
look at street photography from my days born of going to be the Puerto Rican Lee Friedlander. I look at Hip Hop, I look at graffiti. I look at religion, and the
role it plays in daily life, especially in Latino communities, where the, I mean New
York City in general, is a deeply religious place, whether people on the Upper West Side want to acknowledge that or not, but it’s one of the most
religious places I’ve ever seen, but before all that happened,
I grew up in the Bronx. So, we’re gonna look at some pictures now. (laughter)
See, I told you I had pictures, B. Oh yeah, miller face. Here we go, that’s the
South Bronx, actually. That’s Hunts Point. A neighborhood that some photographers would like you to think is just overrun with zombies,
junkies, and prostitutes. I won’t say who he is,
but he knows who he is. (laughter)
This is Hunts Point. You’d think you were like, some, you know, some, swimming hole in the
country in Upstate New York, but this is Hunts Point Riverside Park and there’s a reason for
this blue collared scene actually this was in a column I did about how that part of the South Bronx didn’t have a single public pool, and so, kids took to jumping
off a newly constructed pier, and so, I shot this scene, looking like you’re in the country, but saying, you’re in actually
Hunts Point (chuckles), and they don’t have a pool. They do now, they have the floating pool, but back then they didn’t,
so kids would jump off there. So, this is the Bronx, surprise. This is the South Bronx, surprise. This is Hunts Point,
and there’s not a hooker or a junkie in sight. I really screwed this up, obviously. The Bronx, the Puerto Rican
center of the universe, this neighborhood. I mean, this is where I was born. I mean, this is like a block
away from where I was born, to be honest, but you know, the Bronx is, you know, the center of the Puerto Rican universe, as Ricky Flores, another
member of the collective, we call this neighborhood,
long would inter veil, it’s the center of the
known Puerto Rican universe. You talk to any Puerto Rican, one of them, they have somebody who went through this
neighborhood at some point. Let me put it that way, and you know, we got flags everywhere. We love our flags. Again, this is, you know,
Puerto Ricans in the Bronx. My God, they’re not all unemployed, they’re not all dejected, they’re not walking
around in their T-shirts playing dominoes in a corner. We’ve got the old viveros, which is interesting because I was showing
the change in the Bronx, and when I was a kid,
you went to the vivero. Nowadays, you get a lot of the African Muslims shopping there. So, this institution continues, but serving a different population now. So, and this is from a
column I did actually, where I was just walking by one day and I saw these really rough and tough construction guys
petting one of the goats. (laughter)
Petting! And of course, the goat was oblivious to its eventual fate, but these guys were having
a good time petting it, and I started a conversation with the guy who takes
care of the animals there. I wrote a piece of reminiscence on, on going to the vivero with my father and what it was like. You know, just like, the smell of it, which will knock you one,
but was like, for me, how could I put it? You know, prior to his neverland, I had a dead chicken. It’s a tough town, but that, these are the
things that I look for, these kinds of signs of change. Again, you know, this is outside the
Bronx Documentary Center. They had an exhibit of the work of, what’s his name, your boy? Ben Fernandez, thank you. I saw this African woman
walking by with her kids, and I just thought, “That’s
a nice juxtaposition there.” I really went out to photograph MLK with the light, and then she, I saw her coming up. So I said, “Well, let me
pull back a bit here”, but again, this is the
changes in the borough. Again, more, you know, you still have recent Italian immigrants in some parts of the Bronx. This guy, obviously, was doing
this during the World Cup. When I was at the Arthur Avenue Market, ran into a friend of his there, and I had to photography him. We have this crazy Christmas house run by an Armenian family
for the last 35 years. The Garabedian Christmas
house in Pelham Parkway, that’s also in the Bronx. You know, I mean, you know,
Dyker Heights in Brooklyn does not have the market cornered
on crazy Christmas houses. We have the one really
crazy one in the Bronx. (laughter)
Where you have, you know, Therese the Little Flower
next to Marie Antoinette, and around the front,
you’ve got Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, and Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s with the hat and all that other stuff, and the gloves. It’s, and they move, it’s really freaky. It’s the Bronx! The greatest Puerto Rican
who ever walked the Earth, Roberto Clemente. This was the first
statue of a Puerto Rican erected in New York City. Hard to believe, and it was placed at Roberto
Clemente State Park actually, but again, I was interested in doing just the image in the thing,
but these boy scouts, these young black and
brown men, these kids, looking up to Roberto, as my generation always did, and so, you know, the
traditions get passed on. Not because he was a great ball player, although he was, but he was even a greater humanitarian, and those are the kind
of things that get lost when people talk about our communities. You know, we do have our heroes. You may not know who they are, but we have ’em, and we celebrate ’em in a borough that you tend to write off. I just love homegirl. I mean, it’s like there
are these free, old school Hip Hop jams in Crotona Park every summer, and this girl was just doing her thing, and I just had to take a picture, ’cause she had, at least six years old. She had the moves down, (laughter)
and again, this is like, you know,
this is Crotona Park in the Bronx, you know, but you don’t really know
that until I told you. You think it’s somewhere else, maybe. Old school murals, with the shell-top
Kangol and what have you. This is gone, I photograph
a lot of graffiti ’cause one, I know a
lot of guys who do it, mostly guys, but a few women who are really good at it, and could give any guy
a run for his money, but a lot of this stuff
is ephemeral, it goes, and so I try to, a
couple of us try to take proper pictures of it. We know the artists, we give them pictures for their websites or whatever, but of course, everything changes, and we get Banksy in the South Bronx, and they actually, you know, he did it, and they roped it off and whatnot, and we know, the Bronx
is being gentrified now. I mean, if you would’ve
told me that 20 years ago, I would’ve said, “You’re
hitting the rock, obviously”, but it’s true. That, you know, the quote, the poorest congressional district, urban congressional district, you know, I mean, Port Mars, they’re
building luxury towers. They plan to build seven luxury towers in the poorest urban
congressional division, right next to, like, a ton of projects. Good luck with that, but that’s what you’re talking about. It’s all, you know, it’s a race to past, let’s bring in street art into the, into the borough where like, they kinda invented graffiti, bringing in this guy, and
I like some of his work, but really? I’ll show you another picture later and show you how some writers
in the Bronx responded to him. A writer is a graffiti artist, by the way, but then, this is the
Bronx, where it’s going, but this is where it was in 1960. That’s me, I’m the
little guy in the middle. That’s my pops, my mom,
and my older brother, and that’s at Ferry Point Park. Behind them now, is Donald
Trump’s golf course. Glad we don’t live there. This is what the South Bronx looked like when I returned to it in 1979. This is Cypress Avenue, 138th Street, and different people read
different things into images. You look at this and
say, “Oh, it’s tragic. “It’s falling apart, it’s burned out.” Yeah it is, but … There’s a reason why that church is there. One, and the obviously,
the physical reason, churches are made of
stone, can’t burn stone, but also, when everybody fled the Bronx, you know, the Catholic church stayed. They didn’t move, and the good ones, they
organized, real organizing, and it got to the point in the 70s where people like, Neil Connolly, who I wrote about last week, he died. He was the Vicar of the South Bronx, but he was told by the Cardinal, “Nah, don’t worry about the
pastoral stuff, do organizing. “Organize the people”, which is amazing content. I don’t think we’d see that now under the current administration, but for me, this picture
actually is a picture of hope, not a picture of devastation. You know, it’s not a
picture of devastation. It’s a picture of an institution that helped save our community and give us back what we
deserved with dignity, and people tend to forget that, and again, sometimes the dominant view is one of a secular unionist view, but for those of us who
know the role of religion in some of these communities, it’s a very important role that goes way beyond whatever
happens on Sunday or Saturday. It has real ramifications, but that was how it looked like. This is also how it looked like, this is on Charlotte
Street in Bronx, New York. Remember Charlotte Street, where everyone who
wanted to run for office would come by and say, “We want you to vote”, and
then they’d do nothing? This is Charlotte Street. This is where I taught at C.S. 61. I taught photography
when I was in at En Foco. That’s Bella de Leon,
all the way at the left, another photographer who worked with me, and we taught fourth
graders in this school. We called it visual literacy ’cause it was easier to
get a grant that way, but it was photography (chuckles). You know, we had instant cameras. We showed them how to make shoot, you know pinhole cameras with shoe-boxes, and you know, they got pissed off. We said, “We’re gonna make cameras today”, and then we give them shoe boxes. “What’s that?” “No, this is a camera, believe it”, but all those buildings in the background, they’re all deserted. This is where these kids lived and this is what they showed us, but the interesting
thing with these kids is that when they showed us
the pictures they took, they weren’t showing us
pictures of like, you know, horrible, sad, broke down people. They were showing pictures of like, playing, hanging out at
home, making goofy faces. I still have Polaroids I
took at the Halloween party. These kids are just, still make me laugh, and so, heres, again, what are you looking at when
you look at these landscapes? Are you looking at the emptiness or are you looking at the life? Now, personally, I’d
rather look at the life. Again, this is on Charlotte Street. I was coming home one day,
and these kids were like, “Yo, take my picture, take my picture!” And then I realized, they were like just squeezing this dog that’s trying to get out. (laughter)
I’m thinking like, “wait a moment”, and I just thought it was so cool, ’cause back in those days,
they’ll see you walking and they tell you, “Take my picture”. It’s like they demanded
that you took a picture, so I would. I like photographing kids ’cause I, this is where I play, I played in places like
this when I was a kid. You know, in the school yard
with some graffiti there. It’s, Jimmy Ha Ha is in
here somewhere I know. Yeah, up in the upper left corner. Jimmy Ha Ha is one of the
big guys in the old days. Buck is also, Buck 2 is
one of the other guys, but again, this is P.S. 86,
but the kids are drawing. That’s what it looked like, but again, you know, these kids are just you know, probably drawing designs from all wall work. Again, this is down by The Hub. It’s not what you think it is. It is an empty building, but
an artist had taken it over, and he would take rubble from the building and then using industrial plastic, stuff the plastic with
rubble, fashioning torsos that he would then
people the building with. It’s pretty wild, this
guy was at Fashion Moda. Those of you old enough
to remember Fashion Moda, which is a ground-breaking gallery that took people from the downtown scene, like Jimmy Holser, Tom
Otter, and Charlie Heirhern, and hooked them up with
people in the Bronx, like you know, The Rock
Steady Crew, Crash, Daze and all those guys, and so, there was a
meeting of uptown downtown, and unlike some collaborations, they worked as equals. It wasn’t like folks from
downtown going to hang out with the poor ghetto kids. They both learned from each other, and they both collaborated. So, someone like Jane Dixon, who’s a pretty well-established artist, Jane was doing collaborations with Crash. They built an indoor library, which Crash decorated, and they actually,
Crash now has a gallery, and he actually replicated
the library last summer. This how he’d do it. Now, imagine a basement room
in an abandoned building, totally dark, and you walk in, there are like, maybe 30 of
these suckers lying on the wall. (laughter)
Yeah. I was with a friend of mine, he almost, he bugged, let me put it that way. It was scary. Again, before Hip Hop
became this global industry, it was just like neighborhood crews. This was the Rockwell
Association an early, an early b-boy crew. You know, they just had
like those iron-on letters on their shirts, you
know the iron-on feltler, that was like, that was like high style, and if they really wanted to style, they’d have their Pumas, you know, but these are the early crews. This is what they looked like. It was before it became
this global industry. Just a bunch of kids,
Puerto Rican and Black, don’t believe The Get Down on Netflix. It was Puerto Ricans and Blacks together. ‘Cause, listen, I mean, we grew up in the same neighborhoods. We went to the same schools. It wasn’t like the
Blacks did they’re thing, I mean, the Blacks had
their R&B and whatnot, but you know, they dug bugado, you know? And we all like rock n’
roll, believe it or not, you know, people came up together. – [Woman] What years are this? That’s ’78, these are like ’78-’82. – [Woman] Okay. Squeegee kids getting off the Deegan, they run up and clean your windows. That’s on Fordham at the Deegan. One of my favorite pictures
down by the Mott Haven Library. I was with Rafaj Ramirez, whom used to do a lot
of stuff with En Foco, he’s one of my best friends,
great street photographer, and we had a street gallery. We were showing pictures in the street, and these kids came up, and they said, “Take my picture.” I have a whole bunch of pictures, just from this perspective,
of all these different kids coming up to me, and you know … I just loved it because you
had all this crazy stuff here, and somebody once asked me, “Oh, is this a commentary on violence?” ‘Cause this neighborhood
got pretty nasty about 10 years after I took this picture, this neighborhood got crazy. I mean, it was over one night, a group called the Wild Cowboys, who got RICO’d out of
existence after a gun battle that left five people dead on one block. It was insane, and somebody says, “Oh, did you do this “as a commentary on
violence and innocence?” And I said, “No, I just
kinda like their goofy faces “and all these different
guns coming at you “as compositional elements, “and it’s just fun, I used
to play with guns like that. “You know, just kinda fun”, but you’ve got boys, girls. The difference between boys and girls. I have a son and a daughter,
I can relate to this. Boys, girls (chuckles). I heard from the girl on the right. She was the night manager
of a hotel in Pennsylvania when this story came out. So, it was nice to hear that you know, she went on to do something and her brother is the kid
on the left at the bottom, and he has a landscape
business out in Norfolk, Again, from the heart of the South Bronx. The old ladies of
babushka on Fordham Road. (laughter)
Fordham still had a lot of old Jewish
ladies back in those days, and they always hung out
right there by Alexander’s. Inside Alexander’s, I just notice how this bizarre. This kid’s just sitting there. I don’t know what he did to deserve that, but he’s just sitting there. And I just look and sort of, you know, and then an older dapper
gent with his newspaper. Again, street photography on Fordham. We get permission to go
to the Puerto Rican Parade on 5th Avenue, and they let us cross the bridge into Manhattan, and again, this is before the parade got super crazy commercial, before you had, you know,
Coors putting out cans of beer with the Puerto Rican flag on it. It was just, you know, a much
more laid back kind of event, and the guy had a Kiss Me,
I’m Puerto Rican button, yes he did. He kinda looks, for those
of you who know Latin music, he kind of looks like Moquivera. Again, this is like the reviewing stand at the Puerto Rican Day Parade, which now, they’re probably
charging money to get in there and be sponsored, but I’ve never seen a
kid from Webster Avenue that’s willing to give me a goofy face. He’s just hanging out. It was like, you know, I’m not saying it was a more innocent era, but it was just, things
were a lot more accessible, let me put it, I didn’t
need a press pass to wander. I just walked around with
my cameras and took pictures and talked to people. Sequito de Lares, he was famous on 125th, but also on Fordham Road in the Bronx in my generation. We all knew him on Fordham Road and he was a blind guy
who played tropical music, and for me, I grew up in
a family of musicians. I mean, I never learned
how to play an instrument. I had learned how to play records, but my father played guitar, and I grew up with,
live music in the house, and I always thought
that my father’s music, my father was a handyman, his music kept him sane, and I know it did, and I’d like to think that
this guy also, his mus– And I got to know his grandson. After this was published,
his grandson called me and we became friends
actually, David Zubo, and told me the back story of Sequito, and he was pretty well known, recorded one album,
which I have a copy of. He actually has a song called
Seguito de Lares Rock N’ Roll. It’s not rock n’ roll, trust me, but it is Sequito de Lares, but again, for me, this
is presenting our culture and what our culture means is, and our culture can be a lifeline if you are in a familiar place. I’m Puerto Rican, I have
to have a roof photograph. Let’s face it, when you
look at any Puerto Rican’s family picture, you’re gonna
see a roof picture or two. This is my contribution to the genre. Now, that’s old school graffiti. Now, we’re gonna go right to the present. This is contemporary graffiti. This is John Matos, also known as, Crash. He started out bombing trains, bombing, meaning painting over
trains at night, illegally. He now paints guitars for Eric Clapton. He’s having an exhibit in León next week. He has another one in the
Netherlands in the Fall, and his name is Crash, he went to Murry Bergtraum High School, and he was taking computer science and he crashed the system and that’s how he got his graffiti name because he crashed the system. He has a gallery in the
South Bronx, represen– I mean, you know, shows a
lot of really good people, and you know, is a person
who’s in charge of his destiny. He’s a business person, you know, a lot of times they,
these people coming down, there’s “Oh, we’d like
to feature your work. “You know, could you
give it to us for free?” He’s like, “No, no, it
don’t work like that.” In this, is one of the most
prolific graffiti writers ever, and I can’t tell you who it
is, unfortunately (laughs), but there’s one guy in this picture whose tag has been showing up illegally for about 30 years. He’s everywhere, he’s everywhere. His name is Bester, you
might have seen him. You might have seen his tag, Bester, it’s just curvy letters about this long. This is at a party in Hunts Point for some graffiti writers and a whole bunch of people showed up, including the guy that I can’t
point out, unfortunately, but you know, again, it continues. This, this subculture continues. These people are a lot older now, and some of them are very
well established artists, you know, who are teaching,
or traveling, or exhibiting, and selling their work, and doing it very well. This is probably the leading
mural crew in the South, this is TATS Cru, and these guys, and you’ve seen their work on the Lower East Side, you’ve seen it all over the Bronx. I mean, they travel
everywhere to do their stuff. I mean, they manufacture
their stuff in China when they have to have stuff printed. They actually fly over
there and negotiate. So they, and again, these guys started out just dashing in the yards at night, but they were doing a full wall, the building that was
about to be demolished and the landlord said,
“Well, you can have it, “you know, we’ll pay you
to do it for three months”, and then they put it up. The building’s since been demolished. This is Bio, this is the guy with the hat. The second guy from the left. This is him cast by John
Ahern, another artist who’s done a lot of
work in the South Bronx. John does life casts of people, you might have seen his work elsewhere, but this was done over the summer, a life cast of Bio holding
spray cans (chuckles). This is his partner-in-crime,
Nicer, who’s a joker. He’s always a joker and whenever
I take a picture of Nicer, he’s making some kind of face, and this is at his birthday party, and he had, you know, the
nectar of the gods, Coco Rico, (laughter)
So, he had that, this angelic look on his
face I had to photograph. I had a much more serious shot of him, but this kinda captures
the kinda person he is. This is the most stylish graffiti writer in the South Bronx, a
guy named Pretty Tone, and we were just hanging
out on a green roof, by the way, in Hunts Point, and the light was such, I said, “Homeboy, I
gotta take your picture”, and so, here we go, with, you know, Tones. Again, he’s one of the
associate members of TATS Cru. This is in the back of where
TATS graphs their offices. They have a plywood wall
that’s the exact dimensions of an old train, and so, you can go back and paint something like the size of a whole car, and what’s interesting is, they change it every week. So, this stuff is ephemeral,
this doesn’t exist anymore, nor does this, when Cheo Feliciano died, the great Puerto Rican singer,
the great Salsa singer, BG183, who’s the guy with the white shirt, hooked up with Jamie Hef, you
might have seen Hef’s work out in Brooklyn, Hef is big, Hef’s with the black shirt, and they decided to do
a tribute wall to Cheo. This wall existed for a
total of less than 24 hours. These guys knocked, it’s very zen, these guys knocked it out. Me and Ricky Flores photographed it, and then, the next day, I went back with a better camera to shoot it, and they said, “It’s gone”, and they had buffed it. It was ready for another
crew to come and paint, but I think that tells you
something about their discipline, and these are other,
again, these are gut balls that were long gone. This is a Califor– Some California artist
came to Boone Avenue in the South Bronx to do big pieces. Boone was one of the hidden
graffiti galleries in the Bronx, by gallery, I mean the street, but there were like four
long surfaces or buildings that were covered with
really great street art, you know, by artists
from all over the world, not just, you know, from the Bronx, and this was, these two folks from LA that did Fresh Bros, and it’s gone. It’s, they’re building
affordable housing there now. Then you got more contemporary
stuff, like when Bernie, there’s a big wall by
the Deegan for Bernie, and they added a little detail
of Bernie with the President. (laughs) So that’s also, you know, kinda like Bronx attitude in graffiti. This is Nick 707, Welfare
Fred up on the wall, that’s his stage name. He also a stand up
comic, believe it or not, he’s pretty funny, but he also now, what he does now is he’s an old school writer. He takes pieces of like plexiglass that are shaped like the
ad inserts in the subway, does pieces like that one up there with the thunderbolts, and he gets other people to do them, like really big people, like Taki 183, one of the first writers ever. They get on the train at the first stop, nobody’s there, and then
they take out all the ads, and they put these in, and then they ride all the
way to the end of the line and they take them out, and nobody figures it out, (laughs)
until he’s putting graffiti back onto where he believes
it belongs, in the subway, and that’s, that’s been his contribution. You know, putting it back, and he does this every week. If you look at his Instagram
feed, you’ll see it. He’s doing it, and they get
a whole bunch of artists, including some non-graffiti types who are just into graphic design. So, if you’re ever on like
the 1 Train, he likes The 1, and all of a sudden,
you see this guy walking with three other guys
and their scoping it out, and then, the minute the doors close, they start doing it, you know it’s happening. This was a Banksy in the South Bronx. Yeah, he had done a cheetah over here and I saw it one night
when I was with my son in the neighborhood, and I had my camera, but
it was too late to get out and walk around with gear, with my kid. So, I went home. The next day, I said, “I’m gonna go back.” This is what I found. This is what happened to
Banksy in the South Bronx. That other Banksy you saw,
that now has a roll-down gate. The landlord of the building knows he has something valuable, he pro– Nobody can see it, it’s
protected by a roll-down gate. You lift up the gate, there’s
just a wall, there’s no door. There’s that Banksy piece that we saw, but you know, a lot of graffiti writers were kinda pissed off about Banksy coming in the Bronx area, and everybody going, “Ooh, ah, ah.” It’s the Bronx, homie. It’s like, we invented
this over here, okay. So what are you doing? And people felt that this
was like, kinda like a diss, that everybody’s going “Ooh
and ah”, over this guy, and it’s not graffiti, ’cause I mean, you wanna
talk about graffiti, it’s, graffiti’s about the hand styles, the kinetic motion, the
lettering, you know. He’s, I like his work, but you know, when you
come into the Bronx, this is what could happen, he got buffed. He got buffed and that’s
how we play up there. I mean, I know some,
yeah I have suspicions as to who might have done it, but it could’ve been any
of a number of people. This is one of an old school graf guy who’s taken it to the next level. This is Carlos Mare. He started out doing, like
everybody else, doing trains. Now, he does web design, but he also does metal
sculpture using graffiti lines, and he just came back from
showing his work in Morocco a month ago. This is a kid, again, he started out, his first stash of metal that
he started sculpting with, he stole it from a train yard. (chuckles)
He’ll admit now, statute of limitations is over, but that’s what he wanted, he felt he needed to do something, and it spoke to him, and he, like, took it to another level. If you watch the BET Awards,
they give out a star. He designed that, that’s his design. You know, so, he gets around, and you know, conversations with Carlos are pretty interesting
’cause he’s very well read, he thinks about things a lot, and he has definite opinions. So, this is when No Longer Empty did their thing in Sugar Hill, and they invited him, and I did a column and I
decided to do a portrait of him, kinda like
being eaten by his work. John Ahern, the guy that does life casts, this is his storage room, right, and these are all based on real, every single statue,
there is a real person that he knew or still knows, and I wanted to do a portrait of him and he’s a really hard guy to photograph. I mean, he’s next to
impossible to photograph, but I said, “Let’s go
to your storage room”, and you walk in, and you just, you know, the lights are dim, and it’s like, you see these figures. It’s really spooky, but again, this is, and he
still works in the South Bronx. He lives in a barrio now. He spent a long time
living in the South Bronx, he lives in a barrio, but his studio is still
in the South Bronx, over on 139th and 3rd. The Fresh Bros mural, I knew
I was gonna figure out a way to use it in the paper. I did a profile, this is the man who kinda like pulled it all together. This is Michael Holman. He, he’s a jack of all trades, filmmaker, back up dancer,
was in a band with Basquiat. I mean, he’s done everything, but he had a T.V. show that
had one episode, Graffiti Rock. One episode, people are
still talking about it to this day. You have, like, a cool, you know, a young Kool
Moe Dee, young Run DMC, you had Debi Mazar, as a
b-girl dancing in the crowd. It was wild, but he started
bringing in elements of graffiti, break dancing and rapping, and he put it on T.V. You know, all the elements
of the culture, if you will, and people remembered him for that, and so, when I wanted to photograph Mike, I knew exactly the wall I wanted. I wanted that Fresh Bros wall behind him, and it continues in the Bronx to this day. This guy on the ground, that’s Chief 69, who’s a young b-boy who just, if there’s any b-boying to be done anywhere in the five boroughs, he’ll be the first one there
and the last one to go. He’s like 25 years old, he
was born 25 years too late, but he’s really into the culture in a very positive way, but again, in the Bronx,
you don’t have to pay, the muse are free. This is Behagen Playground by the Forest Projects in Morrisania, and there’s Cas, he hosts, he’s like, what do they
call, the forever host. Whenever they have these jams, he’s the guy on the microphone, you know, calling the shots, and again, this is free,
in the Bronx, in a park. You don’t have to, like, go
to Madison Square Garden, you don’t have to go anywhere, you just go to the
neighborhood and it’s free, and the other thing is, you know they talk about
how dangerous this stuff is, and granted, the farest
projects, they’re hot, but whenever you go to any
of these events, it’s chill. I’ve never been at one of these events when anything jumped
off, seriously, nothing. It’s, you know, people
are into the culture, people into music, and
people into this family vibe, and that’s just how it works, and again, this is the reality
as opposed to perception of what Hip Hop is all
about in the South Bronx. This, Slick Rick. This is, I mean, let’s put it this way, the
mannequin is Slick Rick. (laughter) The guy, with Mandy, that’s Ricky. That’s Ricky, that’s Rick at home. You know, and I was doing a piece about how his finally, his
legal problems were all over, he was gonna become a
citizen and not be deported, and you know, went to talk to him. He was smart, he’s West-Indian, so he brought real estate with his money. (laughs)
He didn’t spend it on stupid stuff. He didn’t buy cars or chains, although, he obviously has chains, but brought houses, and this is where he lives
in the Bronx in Co-op City. It’s a two-family house. That’s where he’s at and
that’s with his wife, and you know, it was just, the man and the persona behind him, and that what I was kinda trying get at. That’s the, the guy, the mannequin is the Ricky we all know on stage, but the man is just a guy with his wife who helped him through his crises ’cause you know, he was being, the US Government was trying to deport him ’cause he came here
illegally when he was like 11 from the UK. We got Biz Markie coming up to the Bronx, on the left hand, and again,
that’s Grandmaster Caz. Again, at one of these
parties at Crotona Park. The culture continues whether or not it’s recognized commercially. The grassroots nature of
the culture is still alive. Then you’ve got, I’m looking at, you know,
this is a transition picture. This is, I do a lot of
stuff under religion. I went to 52 Park in the South Bronx, 152nd
Street around there, off Beck. They have salsa concerts every summer, and I mean, I’m talking about major ones. They get like a gan combo there, okay, and they charge people
five bucks to check it out. It’s amazing, they stopped
’cause the guy who ran it had a stroke three years ago. They haven’t opened since,
but I got there early ’cause I was gonna
photograph something there and this guy was sitting there, and I saw that hat with all
these niño divinos on it, the little Jesus figures, and I was like, and then the Yankee thing, I said, “I gotta photograph this guy.” So yeah, I don’t take a
picture and walk away. I started talking to him first and his name is Mr. Palladium, and that’s because he used to, in the 50s, dance at the palladium
and he loved dancing. He’s like 92, and it was funny ’cause
the quote he gave me, and I didn’t use it because
I wasn’t really writing, but I remember I remember,
he said, he goes, “These kids today, they
spin and spin and spin, “and they call it dancing? “That’s not dancing, that’s spinning. “You know, you have to have steps, “You have to know how
to move with somebody”, and he did, but I just found his face very expressive, but you know, dressed
in white, the collartes, and then, it’s like, I don’t know if those are real collartes or are those toy collartes
for your kids, and these, it’s just all these different
elements mixed in there. This was Justo Botanica,
his name is Jorge. He passed away two years ago, but Justo had a Botanica. His father was Justo and he had a Botanica on 104th and Lexington since the 40s, and then his landlord pushed him out ’cause they wanted the storefront to build something more
necessary, a 7-Eleven. (laughter)
And so, he moved up to 106th and Lex, where
he had his botanica, and I like it because it’s
like he’s a modern day, you know, modern day santero. He’s like, you know,
we accept credit cards, and you can follow him on Twitter, but again, these are institutions that are kind of on their way out. I mean, more recent African
immigrations to the city give them a new customer
base to some extent, and other people, you
know, traditional Latinos, would also come by, but it was interesting the kind of different people that came. Holy Guica La Gruta, which is also known as
the wards of the America. La Gruta is the Grotto, a
part of St. Lucy’s Church in the Bronx, and they have,
on the other side of this, they have like an actual Virgin Mary and a grotto with water coming down and people get it and they drink it, and they cure themselves. I was there one day in Holy Week, and I saw this guy walking up the steps and he just dropped to his knees and there’s like a whole
crucifixion scene in there, and he just dropped to his
knees and started praying, and I decided I wasn’t
gonna get any closer. I, when I cover religion, it was, I realized very quickly,
it’s kind of dangerous to ask people what they pray for. You don’t know how they’re gonna react. I once did a piece on why
people pray to St. Jude, the Patron of the Hopeless (whistles). It’s hard, I mean people are hop– But if imagine, can tell me and my race what you’re praying for? Then, you know, the sacred and the profane side by side. A memorial wall right next to the, an ad for the Legend of Despereaux. I’m pretty up on all my animated movies. I have two children, that’s
all I see is animated movies when I go to the theater, wasn’t a bad flick though. Again, our traditions are such that we are as Latino, as expressive visually, and publicly, about remembering people. That’s part of why we have memorial walls. It’s, people are remembered
and they stay among us still. This is interesting, this is a … Carmen Villegas, now Carmen Villegas was a very active lay person in our Lady Queen of
Angels on 113th Street between 2nd and 3rd. That church was closed by Cardinal Egan, I think in 2007 maybe, and the parishioners pleaded
with him to keep it open, and Carmen and a bunch of other women, yes, pretty much all women, did a sit-in and the
Cardinal had them arrested. The church was closed down, but given to a different
order, Father Stan’s order, a very conservative
Franciscan order of nuns are in the directory and they used the church periodically. When Carmen died, they
asked the archdioceses, could we please have her
service in the church that she loved? And they said, “No.” So being good Puerto Rican women, they said, “Okay, be like that.” So, they had it on the sidewalk (laughs)
outside the church, and that was in my column, but they said, “We’re gonna
put it on the sidewalk, “that’s it”, and that’s what they did. They had a two-hour prayer
service on the sidewalk in front of a shuttered church. A lady of Mt. Carmel, up in East Harlem, where you get a lot of Haitians now, you know when they have their festival, Pentecostals. Again, the Virgin Mary. I went to visit my father’s grave and I turned around, I see
these two bottles of Remy and the Virgin Mary, (laughs)
just looking at how we remember people. This is at the old Nativity
church on 2nd Avenue. They actually did a production of a play in the sanctuary. This is up at Sing Sing. This guy on the left is doing life on three counts of murder. The guy on the right was doing, I think, 20 years for a serious assault, but they, one of these guys, the guy on the right had
done a drawing of the Pope, and giving it to him
through and intermediary, and the Pope gave him a personal message, and see, this is at the
chapel at Sing Sing, actually, when they opened it up and
they started talking about it. The Baptistery at St.
Ann’s is in the Bronx, which actually looks a
lot like the Ave Sophia, it’s the same kinda architecture. This is where I was
baptized, literally, in 1957, and like, I was doing a piece on this architectural history, restore, and I decided, fate would have it that the best picture was in the place where I was baptized. The Church of Nativity
after it was closed, all are welcome. This guy stands out there
and hands out free food that he gets from local restaurants. Father Finland visiting
a home-bound elderly and a very traditional Puerto Rican woman who’s dressed up when he got there, and when he blesses her, she insists on kneeling for the blessing. One of my favorite
pictures is a natural farm in the South Bronx,
called La Finca del Sur, and … These are two Mexican kids who’s father has a plot,
and he’s from Puebla, and he grew up in a farming community, and he says, “I want my children
to learn the traditions.” So it’s being carried
on in the South Bronx, in a real farm. These kids are learning
what their father learned in Puebla, in the Bronx. I love these things,
these doors in the Bronx. I mean, when I was a kid, we
had always had these stickers. (speaks in foreign language) “We’re Catholic and happy”, that’s like the anti-Jehovah’s
witness sticker. Don’t knock on my door, please. You know, or like, Spike Lee said in Crooklyn, “Hell no!” These are variations, so
it’s like, “Yo a Cristo”, but then, I love this one, “Don’t smoke weed in the
hall, sick person here.” So, I mean, you’ve got it covered. You got Jesus, but you also got, “Just don’t smoke early okay?” This is in Hunts Point Contemporary. Used parts from a Radiator
Woman, which parts? One of my favorite pictures. I was just hanging out one
day listening to bomba music, when these guys were doing and they started a circle where people were blessing each other and passing sage, and he was just playing his drum. I stopped the drum on St. Ortiz, and I like it, because it kinda symbolizes what the music means to us, which is like, it’s a real
way to convene community. “It’s not just a performance,
it’s a way of life”, as he says. One of the most famous
people you’ve never heard of, that’s my camadeo, Casa Amadeo, record store in the South Bronx. He, himself, is a noted
composer of hundreds of songs. They were performed by Gran Combos, Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe. He wrote the first big
hit for Hector Lavoe, and Hector went solo after
they split off from Willie. This man is at his store everyday. You could walk in and
just start talking to him. I mean, this is like,
this man is a repository of boleros and salsa,
like you wouldn’t believe, and he’d tell you all these stories, all these musicians passed by his store. I mean, I was there like last summer, and this guy comes in, they’re talking, he looks familiar, who is he? “That’s so and so, he’s the
lead singer from Gran Combo.” They just come by. One of our great guys, Dave Valentin, who passed away recently, but I did a piece on Dave when he was about to lose his house, and somebody read this piece and helped him get better housing, but again, I wanted to photograph, David had a stroke, I didn’t
want to photography him all broke down, I wanted to
photography him in a way that showed, gave him essence
to who this man was, and he, the guy won Grammys
and traveled the world. He was amazing. He performed in six of the
seven continents, I mean. This is our friend Father Stan. This is like this Franciscan fire, who’s a really good jazz bassist, and he asked me for a favor,
so I did this for the cover of one of his albums, but he’s in the South Bronx, also. I did a piece on how we
lost all these major figures in Puerto Rican culture in New York, and I was starting to do a thing on what is the challenge
of being Puerto Rican in New York City? And I thought of jíbaro,
which is what this guy is. A jíbaro in the snow, by the projects, taking a selfie, is the
21st century jíbaro. I was trying to like,
combine all these symbols, that we as Puerto Ricans do every day. We traverse various cultures, and so does, he’s an actor. He calls himself El Jíbaro del Morivivi, but I love this picture. That’s him also, I use
this one from the column, ’cause this one had everything I needed, but I also like this one. You get this almost
here, (speaking spanish). (laughs)
You know? You know, one of the
things that I’m able to do with my job is go to
places that mean something. This is where I went to grammar school, and this was the final
day of my grammar school. It got closed down in 2011, and Jim Ester was photographing it, but I had my camera too,
’cause I went there, and I wanted a photograph, and this was the principal,
at the time, Sister Nora. She was on the other side of the church. This girl in front of me started sobbing ’cause it was the last day, the school had been closed forever, she’s onto somewhere else, and Nora just slowly
worked her way around, sat down next to her,
put her arm around her, and slowly knelt with her
and they prayed together. I thought that was really powerful, and this is Nora saying goodbye
to the last kindergartner, who was graduating that day. They do kindergarten graduations, too, and then some of the people, like, some of the, you know, the
figures in our community. This is Mike Robles, if you
ever watch Local Comedy Jam on Comedy Rumba, that was his thing. I mean, he was bigger than George Lopez. He would have George Lopez
on his show back in the day, but he’s still active. Just, I talked before about
whatever camera you have. This is an iPhone, I
was stopped at a light, as soon as this happened, I took the phone (taps microphone). Quick, and kept moving. This is again, our people
with our flag in Times Square. This was a protest for Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican political prisoner, who has been pardoned
and will be released. Again, our cultural figures, Tato Laviera, the great Nuyorican poet. This is after he got a new
apartment at Diema Towers. That’s his sister, she was Celia Cruz’s
hairdresser, actually, and she takes care of Celia’s
mausoleum in Woodlawn. They change pictures and
stuff every now and then. Ramón Jiménez, this radical
lawyer in the South Bronx. He passed away last year. Papoleto, the Nuyorican poet. This is the thing, I did an interview, he was about to lose his house, and I did a photograph
of him in his apartment, and it looked like an old guy’s apartment. It was a mess, it was a wreck, and then, he starts reading poetry, and he becomes somebody else. I had already put on my camera, so I just reached into my bag, grabbed the first one I could, and just leaned back and popped 10 frames, and I got him reading, and that’s the one I used actually. He totally transformed. When he was at his desk, he was an old guy about to lose his apartment, but when he started reading, he became something totally different. That’s Manny Vega, he
does these great mosaic, 106th and Lex is huya de bucos mosaic, 105th has all these different mosaics on the side of a building that he’s done. He’s working on one of Antonia Pantoja, a great Puerto Rican
activist of the 60s and 70s. She founded a whole bunch of things too, she’s major in the community,
she doesn’t get her due, but Manny takes pieces of tile, but just, I mean like, it’s hard. It’s insanely difficult,
it’s all manual labor. You break off tile and glue it. That’s what he does. Martín Espada, Pulitzer
finalist in poetry. He’s a difficult guy to photograph, and also, his father was Frank Espada, who was a mentor to some
of us, a great photographer in the barrio, back in the day. This guy, Eddie Delgado. This block was cleared
off from slum clearance back in the 60s, on the Lower East Side, City Park, on the renewal area, and they basically cleared
up all the Puerto Ricans. They announced they were
gonna do development of mixed housing, and by
this time, homeboy was 63. So, I took him back to his old block and photographed him there,
talk about, you know, how we went from being 13
to 63, 50 years passed, and nothing happened, until they did development luxury housing. This is my picture. This is the one, I saved it for the end. Listen, this picture
tells me a lot of things. One, always go in your
negatives every now and then. You don’t know what’s in there, ’cause I sure as hell didn’t. I mean, 30 years this
thing sat in my files, I didn’t look in, I
didn’t know it existed, I had other pictures
from that day on my wall. I don’t know that this existed
until I scanned my negs, and, “Oh, what’s this?” And this speaks to me a lot, ’cause, I mean, this is the
South Bronx, August 1979. We’re burning, the city
doesn’t care, nobody cares. In fact, you’re on your own. This is the end that’s gonna
be gentrified now, of course. I was at a block party, there
were tons of people behind me. Lots, and lots, and lots of people, but I turn, I see this couple in their own little world, dancing. So, I just, you know, took my camera, popped off two frames, just two. This was the one usable frame, and people really responded to it, and for me, it speaks to me because, I mean, a part of me, it shows you how we dressed in those days. It was just a block party, but they were dressed to the nine, still. The way he holds her, the
way they move together, and it’s the South Bronx in
a time where nobody cared. Nobody cared, but for me,
what this shows me is, as I learned as a three year old listening to my father play music, was that, you know, when times get rough, your culture sustains you. You know, your tradition sustain you. This is not some abstract thing we’re talking about in anthropology class, this is like daily life in neighborhoods that get overlooked, neighborhoods that get branded as the residents being less than, or not being worthy of, or needing to be uplifted by outsiders, well-intending, though, may be. We have within ourselves
the strength to move forward if we recognize it. I hope that sometimes my
photography accomplishes that, and in my case, it’s my photography and writing together. I kind of blend it all together, but I mean, for me, this is, you know, this image
speaks to a lot of people, and it speaks to me
because it’s just like, it’s very clear from what this means. You know, we were written off, nobody cared about us
back then, they didn’t, but we cared for each other, and that is something that
always gets overlooked when they tell the story
of the South Bronx. It’s like we were just a bunch of pawns that the city didn’t care about, but we cared about each other. I mean, I could talk to the
fellows in my collective. We all have our stories about that. You know, Gonzo talks about, you know, somebody didn’t have food? Come on, sit down, have dinner with us. You know, somebody’s in
trouble, how can we help ’em? You know, it’s not all about, you know, people hiding out and
worrying about crime. Yeah, it was that stuff too, but you know, there was much,
certainly more important which is community. It’s just a very intangible
thing, it’s very delicate and very difficult to reproduce sometimes, but for me, this is all
summed up in this one picture. I like to open up for questions because these are the
last of the pictures. (applause) – [Student] David, I just
wanted to ask you a question regarding the work of Stephen
Shames and Friza Nade. What are your feelings about that? – My brother said, “If you
can’t say anything nice, “don’t say anything at all.” – [Student] Well, I’d just like to know your point of view about it because I, tend to disagree with that. – I agree with you. (laughter) – [Student] I just want, because I guess my question to you is Joe Perry has traumatized
most people in the community, I find it kind of facetious that find that some
things were sort of staged in some people’s work. You know, like when I
think of the prostitution and drug addiction continuing
probably like 112th in the Bronx by Frieza Nade, and I find that, you know, I
was very upset by their work, and even that picture
in the New York Times – Not by me, not by me.
– [Student] Okay, okay. – Listen, I mean, I don’t wanna get into a pissing match with anybody and I’ve consistently taken a position that I make no public comment on. I will say this, I know Hunts Point. I was born on the other side of Brooklyn, had family on Beck Street and Longwood until the mid 70s. I got a cousin who works on Manida Street, and no she’s not a prostitute. You know, she works in
a mental health clinic, she’s a receptionist. I know TATS Cru there,
I got friends there. I go there to hang out. I mean, you know, last Labor Day I was free, I called
up my boy Eddie Pagan, let’s go to borough in Point
Park out in Hunts Point. We just sat down, enjoyed the sun, and took some pictures and talked. It’s Hunts Point. I didn’t see a goddamn hooker or junkie the whole time I was there. The neighborhood of the 90s was like that. The neighborhood of the 90s was like something out of Dante’s
Inferno, it was nuts. Are you gonna have prostitution there? Yes; you have all these truck
drivers going through there being in the produce market, but that neighborhood
has changed drastically since that period, and I think anybody who
just focuses on disfunction is missing the bigger picture. I do know that there are plenty of women in that community who have been highly offended by this portrayal of women, and I can’t argue with that. I think, it’s not an
accurate representation, and I know that he may
not wanna hear that, but for me, it’s like,
this isn’t an assignment. This is a place that’s in my heart. This is a place I know in my bones, and I can spot bullshit when I see it. Stephen Shames, he’s done some great work. Bronx Boys, I can pass. I mean, that wasn’t
photographed in the South Bronx. It was like, Central
Bronx and up by Bedford. You know, but it was
difficult to find any mention of the actual locality because I think people wanna think when you talk about the Bronx, it must be the South Bronx. It must be a certain
type of the South Bronx. I’m not saying you don’t do those stories, but you do them with context, and I think some of these don’t, and that’s the danger that, you know, people come in looking
for a certain thing, and again, people equate
black and brown disfunction with serious, hard-hitting journalism, and that has got to stop. If that’s all we get depicted as, then I don’t wanna, I’d
rather not be depicted at all, if that’s all you’re gonna give us. I’m not saying forget about
that, those things exist, but when you distort it,
that’s when you get into a– – [Student] This is
everywhere, pretty much. – Well, you know, let’s face it. I mean, he used to be, I believe, he worked in finance. One could argue that there’s probably more prostitution and drug use among those crowds, but good luck trying to get
into a hotel to photograph that, but in Hunts Point,
there’s nothing between you and somebody’s dignity. You just photograph ’em on the street, and that’s incumbent upon the
photographer to realize that, and wonder, “Is this
the right thing to do?” I think it’d be interested
if he went and photographed, you know, people in finance getting high and hiring prostitutes, personally. I’d like to see that. I mean, Alexander’s
was like, always there, and I mean, that’s where we went to get back-to-school clothes. I mean, that’s where we used
to buy records at sometimes. I had friends who worked there when we were in high
school and in college. I mean, people could get jobs there. It was a major thing for the neighborhood. Now, it’s like a combination of like, just a bunch of, you know,
The Children’s Place, and PC Richard’s and some
government offices, actually. I think, you know, all these places though have taken hits. You know, The Hub down on 149th. Tremont never recovered
after the ’77 blackout. The Tremont was like a
major shopping district, but it got looted to hell
in ’77 after the blackout, and the city never quite
put the resources in there to bring it back as a retail district, and then, you just had
the rise of the malls, and so, people just go elsewhere, and they’re still pretty active, but it’s not, I mean, when I was a kid, it was a very different type of– Fordham was a, Fordham was
fancy when I was a kid. (laughs)
You know? You know, it was just a fancy joint. I mean, you had several book
stores on the concourse, but you know, everything changes. I mean, you know, that’s part
of the beauty of the city. I’m not sitting here, you know, lamenting that Alexander’s closed, but I have fond memories
of going there, you know, but it’s just, you know, that’s how it is. Things move on. I think part of it is recognizing what I felt growing up. You know, I mean, part of it stems from coming up in an era that wasn’t fun in some ways, I mean, it was rough. You know, and then, memories
of fires in my building when I was 11 years
old, that’s kinda scary. Some of the other things we saw, the buildings falling around you, people moving away. So, you know, you’d say goodbye
to somebody in 7th grade, you show up at 8th
grade, and they’re gone. You don’t know where they went. I mean, I had a bunch of my friends, that just, like, vanished over the summer ’cause everybody was
leaving if they could. I think part of it was
just wanting to capture what people are going through
now in those neighborhoods. Part of it was also, my introduction, I was very lucky in some
of those neighborhoods. I reconnected with people I
knew when I was a young man, and they had become organizers, and they showed me some of this stuff, and they gave me insights as
to how these things were done, and I found it very powerful. I found it very powerful. I started as a photographer, and what I tried to do with my photography when I was young, was try to find some way
to express an emotion without using words, that it was about an emotional connection. I mean, I could do all this formal crap, and you know, be precise kinda shit, but I wanna connect with people, and that’s what it was as a writer. I know I do that as a writer,
I connect with people. I want people to feel something, and so, that turns into
a very different dynamic. You know, I don’t, and
those of you who know me when I work, I don’t have a notebook out,
I don’t have the camera out. I just walk. If I see something interesting, I might, but if it’s not a person,
I might take a picture of a building or something. If a person asks me to
take their picture, I will, but I try to engage them
in conversation, just talk, and if they say something interesting, if I’m there on an assignment, I mean, it’s not just
a casual conversation. It starts out casual, but at some point, they say something, and I say, “That’s important,
why don’t I write that down.” I also identify myself, I don’t, I don’t front and say
I’m just walking through, but I think it’s about
finding some sort of emotional connection, I’m not really, and I’ve done big news stories, but I’m not really into doing news, as it’s defined as, breaking news. I define news much more broadly, which is news is something you don’t know. When it comes to the Bronx
or communities of color, there’s a lot that we just don’t know. So, I see that, and what I’m trying to find is not just with any one story, ’cause one story can only tell so much or any one picture, but over a period of
time, with a body of work, you get a sense of what
this place was like at this point in time, and that includes, for me though, finding a way to bring
the emotional element into the image or into the words. It’s as much about feeling as it is about, you know, conveying, you
know, concrete facts. I mean, Franco talks about
having depth of feeling in pictures, and I think,
you know, any good work that’s trying to communicate with people, you know, whether it’s
music, poetry, photography, writing, whatever. You have to find an
emotional connection somehow, and I’ve been very lucky that every now and then, I
make that connection, and I’m able to think
about what it is about that that is powerful and then very carefully, draw out from that what I put out there, ’cause if you put in too much,
you overwhelm the reader. It comes across as muck,
or as you’re sentimental. You gotta find the right balance
to give them that feeling and then let them figure
it out from there, but that’s what I try to do, and you know, in very tricky situations, I tell people, “You’re in control. “You don’t want a
picture, fine, no picture. “You don’t wanna talk to me, fine. “You don’t have to talk to me.” I learned this a long time ago, where you know, I used to,
you know, homeboy and I used to go to home assignments in the 90s, and you knock on somebody’s door, you know, after their
son is shot dead over, you know, a boombox on 121st and 2nd. Remember that one? And the woman’s ironing your
clothes in the projects, and it’s like, you know, I’d walk in, I’d say, “You
don’t have to talk to me.” I know my editor would be
pissed off if he heard that, but I would say, “You
don’t have to talk to me. “I know this is rough”, and you know what? They will talk to you. So you respect that, you respect that, but you know, I let them
know they’re in charge. I’m in charge of the story, but they’re in charge of whether or not they’re gonna talk to me. I’m not gonna force anyone to talk to me. Feelings only exist in the vacuum. I mean, for me, to recognize
somebody’s feelings means that I have to feel something, and I learned that a long time ago that that’s one of my big, you know, you use all your
senses when you report, or when you shoot or what have you, and one of your best
senses is actually feeling, and the question is if
you look at something or you hear something, and you
have an emotional reaction, then it’s incumbent upon you to figure out well what is it about this
that gives me that reaction? What is it? Case in point, back in the 90s when kids
were dropping like flies because of gun violence, Michelé, who’s a photographer
for the paper, and I, she had a contact at the
funeral parlor in Bedstuy, and she said that when they
get a kid, can they call her, and I’ll never forget, we were at a, I was hanging out and I get a phone call, it’s a dead kid. So, we rushed over to Kings County morgue, and we chronicled her from the moment she was
pulled out of the fridge in the morgue, okay, transported to the funeral parlor. We were not there for the embalming. We did not stick around for that, but we came back when
they were dressing her, doing her hair, covering up
the bullet hole in her face, where she’d been shot in the head by some 16 year old
knucklehead who she insulted. The insult was, you know,
“You won’t shoot me”, and he shot her. Terriah Starnes is her name, smart kid, you know, wanted
to be a psychologist, really good kid, and I was there when her friend showed up for the viewing, and it’s like kids with
backpacks and baggy pants, and they’re hysterical, and they’re just like losing it, and I look at the guest log, you know, the little
book, the condolence book, and it was all filled with curly letters. The way that kids write, curly letters, and that was the detail that I used. That, and a girl sobbing, saying “It’s not her, it’s
not her, it’s not her.” That was all you need, but the curly kids’ writing, that knocked me out, that’s what got me. It was a page of all those. It was a page of kids
mourning a dead friend who shouldn’t have died, and you know, when I saw
that, I felt something. That’s when I knew, that that’s
the detail I needed to use in my story, you know. Stuff like that, but you gotta feel it, I mean, we’re not, you know, again, we get fooled into thinking
we have to be objective. Objective is … We have to be fair is what we have to be. Objective assumes that we’re automatons, we have no feelings, and we do have feelings. I’m not saying that we write biased stuff. I’m not saying that at all, but this whole concept of objectivity, like I started out, is
you know, a construct that might have served the industry when it was, you know,
much more monolithic demographically, shall we say. Doesn’t work anymore. I think so, I still do it. I mean, I do that with my column. – [Participant] Yeah. – And also with my, just my personal work that I shoot for myself, but I find a way of looking at it. Listen, I didn’t set out
to document the South Bronx when I was a kid
– [Participant] Right. – Again, I just wanted to be the Puerto Rican Lee Friedlander, so I was on the street taking pictures. You know, I did not have any grand plan about documentation, representation,
or anything like that. Obviously, on some level, I must’ve had something
going on, you know, but I just wanted to take pictures, but as I get older, and I see more. I didn’t show any overseas work, but you know, the work that I did overseas really helped sharpen me in a lot of ways, and when I came back to the States, I had totally different eyes. Well, I started taking
pictures more seriously again when I went overseas, first of all. So, I kind’ve picked up
after a 16-year hiatus, ’cause like from ’83 to like ’99, I took very few pictures. You know, I probably took more SX70’s than I took film pictures, actually. At one point, I was going
nuts with SX70 for a while, but it wasn’t until ’99
that I started shooting, then I went overseas. So, I was getting back to
discovering the joy of shooting, but you know, 16 years, I was kinda rusty, you know, but I started, you know, I started to have more discipline about it after I got back to New York, and I started going through
these neighborhoods again, and I started having the
same kind of reactions, except, you know, I have the
benefit of some maturity. I know how to deal with people better and even in touchy situations, ’cause you just learn to do
that the more you do this, and you know, working with, you know, great people like Angel. You know, you learn things, what to do, and now I’m doing it with a
much more conscious decision. Now, I’m doing it with, like, you know, I want to show this, I
want to preserve this. I want people to know
this is how we lived. This is who we are. Now, it’s a very conscious thing for me, you know, and that’s the benefit
of all these other things. Working overseas gave me perspective in terms of also, you think you got it bad here? I could take you to some places that will curl your hair, you know? I mean, that was good, and even in those places though, I tried to pursue it a certain way, whether I was working
in Haiti or El Salvador. You know, tried to present a reality in a very tough place, but you know my shooting
really got into high gear, I’d say about ten years ago. That’s when I started really
just getting obsessive about it again, and it is obsessive. I mean, I don’t leave the house without some camera. I always have one with me, and if I miss something, I go back, you know, it’ll come back. Something will come back, you know, and, but I’m also different in the sense that I interact with people more now. I didn’t interact with people a lot. Back then, I did a lot of hip shots. I don’t do hip shots anymore. If I’m gonna photograph someone, I want them to know I’m
photographing (chuckles). It’s more interesting too, you learn stuff about people, and you learn stuff that informs
how you look at the world. – [Jaime] That’s all the time we have. – Thank you. – [Jaime] David Gonzalez,
thank you so much. (applause)

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