Spanish Harlem
Project info

Spanish Harlem

Spanish Harlem is a place I have experienced in my adolescence. I always remembered Ben E King's song; "There is a Rose in Spanish Harlem. As a teenager, my uncle had a candy store there. Often my cousin and I would make the long journey uptown on the subway from Brooklyn to visit him at his store. People on the block would come by to play dominoes, listen to the music of Tito Puente, Eddie Palmeri, Willie Colon, drink beer and talk about baseball. I was always excited to listen to the many stories of the streets of the barrio. I did not begin to photograph El Barrio Spanish Harlem until I was a student at the International Center of Photography in the mid 80's My teacher Fred Ritchin (then the director of the documentary program) had given us students a group assignment on the gentrification of East Harlem. After completion of the documentary, which was for fund raising and public awareness, I began to look closer at this community. I was very frustrated to see the only time the local newspapers mentioned El Barrio was when crimes were committed. I knew then that I had to spend time to try and break these stereotypes. I began by going inside, behind the closed doors of many of its families, shops, churches and cultural institutions. I photographed from 1985-1990. In May 1990 the National Geographic Magazine published the cover story, Growing Up in East Harlem. In 1995 D.A.P./ National Museum of American Art published the book, Spanish Harlem.

Joseph Rodriguez