Inside ‘The Puerto Rican Diaspora


The New York Times showcases the work of Puerto Rican photographer Frank Espada, whose book “The Puerto Rican Diaspora” gathers images from the impressive portfolio Espada amassed over decades photographing Puerto Ricans throughout the United States. Here are some excerpts from the profile, which you can access (together with a gallery of photographs) through the link below:

Traveling from Puerto Rico to New York and from Hartford to Hawaii, he documented in loving portraits his countrymen and women engaged in ballet and theater, drug rehab and field work. Their faces are open, direct and trusting, presenting a nuanced take on complicated lives that are often led out of the spotlight.

Mr. Espada could relate, because he had to try harder himself. For much of his life, he put his artistic dreams on hold while working in a series of day jobs to pay the bills and raise three children. Thirty years ago, at 49, he was finally able to dedicate himself totally to photography after winning a federal grant that allowed him to travel and shoot the images that form the core of his Diaspora series.

And like a better-known Frank, he did it his way.

“I had been photographing for more than 30 years before I got the chance to apply my knowledge and skills to make an honest statement about our experiences in our diaspora,” he said. “I was not pre-programmed by some know-nothing editor to bring back more proof as to the miserable lives we were living. It was to be as loving a document as I could produce.”

. . .

 Mr. Espada’s work stands in stark contrast to much of the photojournalism produced over the years in Puerto Rican communities, where despair was never far from the camera. Never one to mute his opinions, he called some of those now-celebrated photographers “rip-off artists” who built their reputations on the backs of the dispossessed.

“I have nothing but contempt for the lot of them,” he said. “They were documenting our young people doing destructive acts. They went in there and photographed it, and these young kids felt like big shots because they were being photographed. I’ll never forget that, because it did great damage.”

. . .

 “I had plenty of opportunities to photograph people hurting themselves,” he said. “But I have never done that. That’s not what I’m about here. Even when you see the section about people in rehab, it’s an ‘up’ section.”

Pablo Delano, a photographer and son of Jack Delano — who photographed Puerto Rico for the Farm Security Administration — said Mr. Espada’s work complemented his father’s. In fact, he is hoping to mount a joint exhibition.

“Frank’s work is profoundly humanistic,” said Mr. Delano, who teaches at Trinity College in Hartford. “Stereotypes about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans are so deeply embedded in mainstream U.S. culture that even some Puerto Ricans have started to believe them. Frank’s images dispel all that. He does it in a dignified way, yet without becoming sentimental or romantic.”

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