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Archive for the ‘En Foco’ Category

In our second installment of Artist Interviews, Grace Ali speaks passionately in this interview with Zoraida Lopez about the meaning of home for an immigrant artist from Guyana in the United States. Her need to find herself, allowed for a relationship with New York City to bloom and eventually realized that “home is really where I am in the present moment.”

StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects – Since 2003, they have collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews with over 90,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in order “…to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters.” http://www.storycorps.org

Stay tuned for more interviews, coming soon.

Consider donating to En Foco, to help keep these stories alive. Donate here.

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On February 18th, 2015, En Foco held a Members Only Event, The Art of Seeing at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, in collaboration with the exhibition Kamoinge + En Foco: Advancing the Frame, on view through March 26th, 2015.  This event was a great opportunity for members to share their work with each other as well as a chance to meet, inspire, and share ideas.

It was a wonderful event, and a great opportunity for our members to network and get to know the  En Foco familia. Below is a slideshow of who they are and their work – take a look and enjoy!

This video is featuring:

Michael Berges Alvarez
Jaime Permuth
Noelle Théard
George Malave
Sonia Louise Davis
Scott Bae
Joana Toro
Hye-Ryoung Min
Ni Rong
Groana Melendez
Tomiko Jones
Gabriel García Roman
Gerald Cyrus
Marina Font
Ana De Orbegoso
Jon Henry
Aubrey J. Kauffman
Elizabeth Borda
Sandra Chen Weinstein

All images in video © Copyright to the artists.

Below are a few Highlights from the evening:

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En Foco members gathered around and seeing each other’s work on the slideshow. ©Dani Cattan

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En Foco member Aubrey J. Kauffman discussing his work. @Dani Cattan

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Nueva Luz artist Gabriel Garcia Roman discussing his work. ©Dani Cattan

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En Foco member George Malave explaining his work to other members. ©Dani Cattan

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En Foco members Len Walker and Marilyn Nance at the members event, “The Art of Seeing.” ©Dani Cattan

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(Left to Right) Nueva Luz artist Gabriel Garcia Roman, New Works #18 awardee Joana Toro, Guest Andres Montoya, and En Foco member Liz Borda at the members event, “The Art of Seeing.” © Dani Cattan

Join us again soon for another Members event – be sure to follow us on Facebook.com/enfoco, Twitter @enfoco and Instagram @enfoco_org. For the latest updates on exhibitions, news and events please sign up for our E-News located on our homepage.

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We’re excited to bring you our Artist Interview project, presented by En Foco in collaboration with StoryCorps. This podcast features Manjari Sharma talking intimately with friend and sister-in-law, Theresa Sprague, about her family and blooming photography career in India, as well as her in depth exploration of photography in the United States. She shares images of her family and her early work so we can understand her creative journey and transformation as a person and photographer.

 

 

StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects – Since 2003, they have collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews with over 90,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in order “…to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters.” http://www.storycorps.org

 

Stay tuned for more interviews, coming soon.

Consider donating to En Foco, to help keep these stories alive. Donate here.

Read Full Post »

At En Foco, we believe that art should be available to everyone, which is why The Print Collectors Program offers original photographs at affordable prices by internationally recognized and emerging artists, such as:

David Gonzalez, Tomiko Jones, Terry Boddie, Manuel Rivera–Ortiz, Rojelio Reyes Rodriguez, Myra Greene, Lola Flash, Valdir Cruz, Ana de Orbegoso, Martín Weber, Gerald Cyrus, Juan Sánchez, Frank Gimpaya, Charles Biasiny–Rivera, Sophie Rivera, Kathy Vargas, Kerry Stuart Coppin, SungKwan Ma, Lauri Lyons, Adál and Tetsu Okuhara.

Every dollar of your print purchase helps underwrite an exhibition, publication or event – and the best part, a percentage is returned to the creator of the image.

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Archival pigment print, 12 x 17” (paper size 16 x 20”) Limited edition of 20  Price: $500

Dancers, Mott Haven, August 1979/2013
Archival pigment print, 12 x 17” (paper size 16 x 20”) Limited edition of 20. Price: $500

David Gonzalez graduated with a B.A. in psychology from Yale University and a M.S. in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School in Journalism, he is currently co-editor of the Lens blog and does the biweekly “Side Street” photo-essay feature for the City Room blog in The New York Times.

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Chute, Cassis, France, These Grand Places series, 2009/2012 Archival pigment print, 16x20” (on 17x22” paper) Exclusive En Foco limited edition of 20 Price: $300 (market value of  Tomiko’s work $1,000)

Chute, Cassis, France, These Grand Places series, 2009/2012
Archival pigment print, 16×20” (on 17×22” paper) Exclusive En Foco limited edition of 20. Price: $300 (market value of Tomiko’s work $1,000)

Tomiko Jones graduated with a BA and a Minor in Studio Art and Photography from Western Washington University and a MFA and Certificate of Museum Studies from the University of Arizona. She was one of the recipients of last  year’s New Works Fellowship Awards #17.

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School Days, Residue of Memory series, 2000/2007 Archival pigment print, 16 x 20” (paper size 17 x 22”) Limited edition of 10 Price: $300 (market value of  Terry’s work: $600–$1,000)

School Days, Residue of Memory series, 2000/2007
Archival pigment print, 16 x 20” (paper size 17 x 22”) Limited edition of 10. Price: $300 (market value of Terry’s work: $600–$1,000)

Terry Boddie graduated with a BFA in Photography and Image from the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University and a MFA from the Hunter College of New York. He was one of the recipients of En Foco’s New Works Awards Fellowship in 1998 and is currently director and curator for Oualie Art, New Jersey, USA.

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Tobacco Harvesting, Viñales, Cuba, 2002 Silver halide print, 7.5 x 11”  Limited edition of 10 Price: $300 (market value of Manuel’s work: $700)

Tobacco Harvesting, Viñales, Cuba, 2002
Silver halide print, 7.5 x 11” Limited edition of 10. Price: $300 (market value of Manuel’s work: $700)

Manuel Rivera-Ortiz graduated cum laude with a B.A. degree as an English major from Nazareth College, and in 1998 he received his MS from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was one of the recipients of En Foco’s New Works Awards Fellowship in 2004 and was awarded the Artist of the Year Award from the Arts & Cultural for Greater Rochester in 2007.

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Rodolfo con gallo, Mi Sangre series, 2004/2010 Archival pigment print on Canson Infinity paper, 14 x 11"   Limited edition of 20  Price: $300 (market value of Rojelio’s work: $600–$1,000)

Rodolfo con gallo, Mi Sangre series, 2004/2010
Archival pigment print on Canson Infinity paper, 14 x 11″ Limited edition of 20. Price: $300 (market value of Rojelio’s work: $600–$1,000)

Rojelio Reyes Rodriguez graduated from the School of Art and Design at the University of Houston and majored in Latino Studies at Columbia University.

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Untitled, Character Recognition series, 2006/2008 Archival pigment print, 7 x 5.25” (paper size 11 x 9.25”) Limited edition of 20. Price: $300 (market value of Myra’s ambrotypes: $1,200)

Untitled, Character Recognition series, 2006/2008
Archival pigment print, 7 x 5.25” (paper size 11 x 9.25”) Limited edition of 20. Price: $300 (market value of Myra’s ambrotypes: $1,200)

Myra Greene graduated with a BFA from Washington University in St. Louis and MFA from University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City and The New York Public Library. Greene has been published in the photographic journal, Nueva Luz, vol. 12:3, Exposure Magazine, and Contact Sheet #132.

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Karisse, London, [sur]passing series, 2003 C–print, 20 x 16” (paper size 24 x 20”) Limited edition of 10. Price: $300 (market value of  Lola’s 4 x 5’ prints: $2,000)

Karisse, London, [sur]passing series, 2003
C–print, 20 x 16” (paper size 24 x 20”) Limited edition of 10. Price: $300 (market value of Lola’s 4 x 5’ prints: $2,000)

Lola Flash graduated with a BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art and a MFA from London College of Printing. Flash is part of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum‘s Permanent Collection, as well as En Foco’s Permanent Collection, and traveling exhibition. She was featured in the photographic journal, Nueva Luz vol. 11:1.

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Salto Curucaca I, Guarapauva, Paraná, Brazil, 2002 Pigment on paper, 16 x 20” Limited edition of 20. Price: $300 (market value of  Valdir’s 30 x 38” prints: $8,500)

Salto Curucaca I, Guarapauva, Paraná, Brazil, 2002
Pigment on paper, 16 x 20” Limited edition of 20. Price: $300 (market value of Valdir’s 30 x 38” prints: $8,500)

Valdir Cruz is a two-time winner of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. His work has been exhibited in various museums and galleries such as El Museo del Barrio in New York City, Brooklyn Museum, FotoFest 2004 in Houston, Texas, and Galeria de Arte in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, and has been featured twice in the photographic journal, Nueva Luz vol. 6:2 and vol. 12:3.

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The Wall, 2004 Archival pigment on paper, 5 x 17” (paper size 13 x 19”) Limited edition of 10. Price: $300 (market value of  Ana’s work: $1,750+)

The Wall, 2004
Archival pigment on paper, 5 x 17” (paper size 13 x 19”) Limited edition of 10. Price: $300 (market value of Ana’s work: $1,750+)

Ana de Orbegoso attended the School of Visual Arts, Pratt Institute, and the International Center of Photography. She was awarded the PhotoEspana LIMA 2009 National Association of Latino Arts and Culture Grant in 2008-09. She also received the New York Foundation for the Arts Grant in 2008. She was a recipient of En Foco’s New Works Awards Fellowship in 2002.

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Eu, Pajé, quero que minha filha estude para defender seus direitos  (I, Pajé, want my daugher to study to defend her rights) Comunidade Karapoto, Alagoas, Brazil, A Map of Latin American Dreams series, 2005 Archival pigment print on Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag, 10.5 x 8.5" Limited edition of 50. Price: $300 (market value of Martín’s work $3,000)

Eu, Pajé, quero que minha filha estude para defender seus direitos (I, Pajé, want my daugher to study to defend her rights) Comunidade Karapoto, Alagoas, Brazil, A Map of Latin American Dreams series, 2005
Archival pigment print on Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag, 10.5 x 8.5″ Limited edition of 50. Price: $300 (market value of Martín’s work $3,000)

Martín Weber graduated from the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina and attended the International Center of Photography in New York City. Weber’s work has been exhibited in various galleries and museums such as 601 ArtSpace in New York, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Photographer’s Gallery in London. His work has been published in magazines such as the photographic journal, Nueva Luz vol. 12:3 and Contact Sheet #125.

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St. Nick’s Pub, Harlem, 1995 Gelatin silver print, 11 x 14” (paper size 16 x 20”) Limited edition of 15. Price: $300 (market value of Gerald’s work: $1,000+)

St. Nick’s Pub, Harlem, 1995
Gelatin silver print, 11 x 14” (paper size 16 x 20”)
Limited edition of 15. Price: $300 (market value of Gerald’s work: $1,000+)

Gerald Cyrus graduated with a MFA at the School of Visual Arts and was awarded the Pew Fellowship in the Arts in 2005 and the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in 1998. He published a photobook about jazz and Harlem in 2008 titled, Stormy Monday: New York’s Uptown Jazz Scene and has been published in the photographic journal, Nueva Luz vol. 5:1.

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Abuelita, 1991/2003 Archival pigment print, 16 x 19” Limited edition of 30. Price: $400 (market value of Juan’s work: $1,000+)

Abuelita, 1991/2003
Archival pigment print, 16 x 19” Limited edition of 30. Price: $400 (market value of Juan’s work: $1,000+)

Juan Sánchez graduated with a BFA in Cooper Union and a MFA in Rutgers University. His work has been exhibited at El Museo del Barrio in New York, Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in Santurce, P. R. He was awarded the Grand Prize at the XII Bienal de San Juan del Grabado Latinoamericano y Del Caribe and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Hispanic Academy of Media Arts and Sciences.

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Fire Eater, Zócolo, Oaxaca series, 1983 Gelatin silver print, 9.5 x 13” (paper size 11 x 14’’) Non–editioned. Price: $300 (market value of Frank’s work: $500+)

Fire Eater, Zócolo, Oaxaca series, 1983
Gelatin silver print, 9.5 x 13” (paper size 11 x 14’’) Non–editioned. Price: $300 (market value of Frank’s work: $500+)

Frank Gimpaya graduated with a BFA at Hunter College. He is responsible for the original design of Nueva Luz, a noteworthy photographic journal published by En Foco. His photographs are in the collection of Museet For Fotokunst in Odense, Denmark and he was awarded a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship (2002), the Pace/Promise Awards for Contributions in Arts Education (1992), and the CAPS Award from the New York State Council on the Arts (1977).

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Child God, 1996/2006 Digital print with gold acrylic and mixed media, 15.5 x 19.5” (paper size 16 x 20”) Exclusive En Foco limited edition of 30. Price: $400

Child God, 1996/2006
Digital print with gold acrylic and mixed media, 15.5 x 19.5” (paper size 16 x 20”) Exclusive En Foco limited edition of 30. Price: $400

Charles Biasiny-Rivera graduated with a BA in Photography and Latin American Literature & Culture at Empire State College/SUNY. He is one of the founding members of En Foco and was the Executive Director from 1974 to 2006. He was a two-time winner of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship.

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Leaper, Subway series, 1980s Gelatin silver print, 16 x 20” Non–editioned. Price: $300 (market value of Sophie’s work: $600+)

Leaper, Subway series, 1980s
Gelatin silver print, 16 x 20” Non–editioned. Price: $300 (market value of Sophie’s work: $600+)

Sophie Rivera was featured in the first issue of the photographic journal, Nueva Luz. Her work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the Museum of the City of New York in New York City.

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Untitled, Oración: Valentine’s Day, 1991 Unique hand colored gelatin silver print, 14 x 11” Price: $300

Untitled, Oración: Valentine’s Day, 1991
Unique hand colored gelatin silver print, 14 x 11” Price: $300

Kathy Vargas graduated with a MFA from the University of Texas in San Antonio. She is an associate professor and Chair of the Art Department at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas and was featured in the photographic journal, Nueva Luz, vol 4:2.

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In my Father’s House, St. Louis, Senegal, 2001 Archival pigment on paper, 6 x 16” (paper size 13 x 19”) Limited edition of 10. Price: $300 (market value of  Kerry’s work: $600–$3,000)

In my Father’s House, St. Louis, Senegal, 2001
Archival pigment on paper, 6 x 16” (paper size 13 x 19”) Limited edition of 10. Price: $300 (market value of Kerry’s work: $600–$3,000)

Kerry Stuart Coppin graduated with a AAS from Fashion Institute of Technology, a BFA from Rochester Institute of Photography, and MFA in Photography from Rhode Island School of Design. Coppin was featured in the photographic journal, Nueva Luz, vol. 9:1. He was also published in SPE’s Exposure, vol. 37:2 and Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers.

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Untitled, Shigatse, Tibet, 2001 Type–C print, 16 x 16” Limited edition of 15. Price: $300

Untitled, Shigatse, Tibet, 2001
Type–C print, 16 x 16” Limited edition of 15. Price: $300

SungKwan Ma graduated with a BA in Liberal Arts with a specialty in photography from City College, New York City. He won the Therese McGabe Ralston Connor Award four consecutive times from 1996 through 1999. He is also a two-time winner of The General Motors Scholarship and was awarded the Mortimer Hays-Brandeis Traveling Fellowship in 2000.

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Preacher, 1995 C–print, 14 x 11” (paper size 20 x 16”). Price: $300

Preacher, 1995
C–print, 14 x 11” (paper size 20 x 16”). Price: $300

Lauri Lyons graduated with a BA from Minneapolis College of Art and Design and is a Magazine Publishing Certificate Candidate in New York University. Her work has been shown in various galleries and museums such as the International Center of Photography and Umbrella Arts Gallery in New York City and the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, Alabama,. She was featured in the photographic journal, Nueva Luz’s Commemorative Issue vol. 7:2.

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 Memorias Olvidadas (Forgotten Memories), 1974.  Gelatin silver print, 7.5 x 7.5” (paper size 10 x 8”) Limited edition of 10. Price: $400 or $500 framed (market value of Adál’s work: $1,500)


Memorias Olvidadas (Forgotten Memories), 1974.
Gelatin silver print, 7.5 x 7.5” (paper size 10 x 8”) Limited edition of 10. Price: $400 (market value of Adál’s work: $1,500)

Adál graduated with a BFA from San Francisco Art Institute and attended Los Angeles Art Center College of Design. He has collaborated with artists such as Pedro Pietri, Tito Puente, and Robert Mapplethorpe. Adál has been featured three times in the photographic journal, Nueva Luz (vol. 5:2, 7:2, and 9:2).

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Neon Samurai, 1987 Gelatin silver print, 7.5 x 5.5” (paper size 14 x 11”) Price: $300

Neon Samurai, 1987
Gelatin silver print, 7.5 x 5.5” (paper size 14 x 11”) Price: $300

Tetsu Okuhara attended Cooper Union and the University of Chicago. His work was been exhibited at Steven Kasher Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, Chicago Art Institute, and Korean American Museum. He is a two-time winner of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Fellowship.

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When you make a purchase, your order will include an original photograph signed by the artist, and a complimentary one-year subscription to Nueva Luz Photographic Journal for non–members.

You can also take advantage of our Patron’s Circle. Memberships over $100 receive discounts or even a FREE print, depending on your choice in level of support.

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At En Foco, we believe that art should be available to everyone, which is why The Print Collectors Program offers original photographs by internationally recognized and emerging artists, at affordable prices. Every dollar of your print purchase helps underwrite an exhibition, publication or event – and the best part, a percentage is returned to the creator of the image.

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En Foco and the Bronx Brewery have partnered together to bring you great art and great beer.

Photo © Myra Greene, Untitled, Character Recognition series, 2006/2008. Available for purchase in our Print Collectors Program.

Photo © Myra Greene, Untitled, Character Recognition series, 2006/2008. Available for purchase in our Print Collectors Program

Photo © Bronx Brewery, BLack Pale Ale.

Photo © Bronx Brewery, Black Pale Ale.

As our collaboration and partnership has grown, we’d like to share a short story about the Brewery’s beginning adventures.

During the installation of all the tanks for the brewery, Damian and I [owners] decided to take care of the unloading and installation ourselves to save a little bit of money. We were unloading the​fermentation tank from the delivery flatbed when all of a sudden the tank tipped and fell over, pinning ​me under the tank and the forklift! After some hurried yelling, the construction workers rushed over to help lift the tank off of my crushed body.  Maybe it was the adrenaline, maybe I’m a little crazy, or more likely, a combination of both – but I decided it was a good idea to just get up and keep working. Well, after a few minutes, the reality (and pain) of this near death experience kicked in. I decided I’d better go to the hospital – and only after some convincing, I let someone else drive me. Considering I had just been crushed by a huge fermentation tank, I had a great experience at Lincoln hospital. I met some wonderful bronx locals, and the service there was great; and best of all, I managed to escape this incident without any injures! Hey, nothing like a tank falling on you to commence the opening of a brewery.

– Chris Gallant, General Manager, The Bronx Brewery

Seems as though En Foco and the Bronx Brewery both share traits of resilience and strength – so join us as we celebrate!

Come to the Brewery’s brand new Tap Room for our Happy Hour Reception, Wednesday, Nov. 19th 6-9pm, and enjoy our Print Collectors Program prints. All prints are available for purchase which helps support the artists and En Foco’s programs. RSVP today

To read more about one of our newest edition’s to our Print Collectors Program, visit our blog post on David Gonzalez’s Print, The Dancers 1979.

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Esteemed author and cultural critic Ilan Stavans, will be writing a series of ten essays specifically for our photographic journal, Nueva Luz and our blog. ‘I Am Stereotype’ is the first article in the ‘Picturing Diversity’ series, which will later become a book on photography. In discussing how the medium has changed, Stavans challenges assumptions on how society sees the world and how we view each other. It is a pleasure to be able to bring this exciting series to our readers.

For Part 2-A of this article, please visit : Part 2-A: I Am Stereotype.


Thomas delivers another parody in “The Liberation of T.O: I’m Not Goin’ Back to Work for Massa’ in Dat Darned Field!” It is about a young black man with a football in his hand who is desperately getting out of his neighborhood through his athletic talent. But the traditional message of triumph versus adversity is turned upside down. The setting is clearly New York City and the protagonist, in his flee, leaves havoc behind. Some of those around him (everyone is black) are eager to embrace him. Others have collapsed on the street and are dead. But this young man is undeterred. He won’t look back. His dreams are what he is chasing.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Liberation of T.O.: I'm Not Goin' Back to Work for Massa' in Dat Darned Field!, Unbranded series, 2003/2005. Lambda photograph, original photograph by Charlie White, 57 x 50"

Hank Willis Thomas, The Liberation of T.O.: I’m Not Goin’ Back to Work for Massa’ in Dat Darned Field!, Unbranded series, 2003/2005. Lambda photograph, original photograph by Charlie White, 57 x 50″

Is this a critique of minority collectivism? Is the black athlete an individualist? Or is the photograph commenting on how much hope the community deposits on its young, to the degree of blinding itself to everything else?

In a dramatically-different approach, Adál, in the photograph Conceptual Jíbaro Art, part of a series called I Was a Schizophrenic Mambo Dancer for the FBI, uses parody to invoke a long-standing tradition of self-portraits that reaches back to Rembrandt and in recent times has been pushed to its limits by Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, and, notably, Lee Friedlander, Lucas Samaras, and Cindy Sherman.

What do we see when we see ourselves? When the viewer is from a minority, the answer is a stereotype. We are what others project in us, what they want to see in us, what they make of us.

Adal, Conceptual Jibaro Art, I was a Schizophrenic Mambo Dancer for the FBI series, 1990. Gelatin silver print, 12 x 12"

Adal, Conceptual Jibaro Art, I was a Schizophrenic Mambo Dancer for the FBI series, 1990. Gelatin silver print, 12 x 12″

In mentioning Willis Thomas and Adál, I said that one of them is black and the other Puerto Rican. Would I have done the same had I been talking about Warhol, whose lineage was Czech? Would I have talked of Rembrandt as stereotypically Dutch? Surely not… Therein lies my point: minorities cannot escape being representatives of their breed. Nobody in Puerto Rico cares that Adál is Puerto Rican, but in the United States his condition is that of an outsider, a rara avis. As a photographer, he makes use of this plight: he pictures himself as normal yet abnormal, a stereotype whose differences he doesn’t want to erase but, instead, enjoys aggrandizing.

-Ilan Stavans

Next Article, TBA.

Ilan Stavans, one of today’s preeminent essayists, cultural critics, and translators, is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture and Five College-Fortieth Anniversary Professor at Amherst College. His books include Spanglish(2003), Love and Language (2007), and Gabriel García Márquez: The Early Years (2010), Return to Centro Histórico: A Mexican Jew Looks for His Roots (Rutgers, 2012), and the graphic novel El Iluminado (Basic, 2012, with Steve Sheinkin). He is the editor of The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories (1998), The Poetry of Pablo Neruda(2003), the 3-volume set of Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories (2004), Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing (2009), The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2010), and The FSG Books of 20th-Century Latin American Poetry (2011), and a guest writer for Nueva Luz, volume 10#1 (2004).

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Esteemed author and cultural critic Ilan Stavans, will be writing a series of ten essays specifically for our photographic journal, Nueva Luz and our blog. ‘I Am Stereotype’ is the second article in the ‘Picturing Diversity’ series, which will later become a book on photography. In discussing how the medium has changed, Stavans challenges assumptions on how society sees the world and how we view each other. It is a pleasure to be able to bring this exciting series to our readers.


As stated in part one of this essay series, Picturing Diversity, in democracy, we are all unique in our difference and, also, that we are all actors. People of color have an added advantage here. Or perhaps it is a handicap. For not only are its members unique but they are trapped in that uniqueness. Normal means to be like everyone else, which implies that one thing minorities can never be, is normal.

Their abnormality depends on being seen as clannish, even when they are not. Others think they move around in groups. They are perceived as collectivities rather than aggregates of individuals. And they appear to distill a sense of defiance, of a lack of desire to fully assimilate, to become part and parcel of the status quo. I have italicized appear because all this—their tightness, their boldness, their pseudo-insolence—is only a perception. It comes from the environment, which thrives in portraying the minority as separate, unlike everyone else, different.

Different to what? To the center. The minority lives in the margins, in the outskirts of society, not at the heart of power. In other words, its members are as much individuals as they are followers. In sum, minorities are symbols. In existing, they are factories of meaning. They live to represent and convey meaning about their background. Their collective self is a reflecting mirror in which personal qualities are confused with distinctive characteristics.

Hank Willis Thomas, Smokin' Joe Ain't J'Mama, Unbranded series, 1978/2006. Lambda photograph, original photographer unknown, 52 x 50"

Hank Willis Thomas, Smokin’ Joe Ain’t J’Mama, Unbranded series, 1978/2006. Lambda photograph, original photographer unknown, 52 x 50″

I’m talking about stereotypes, of course. To understand this troublesome concept (troublesome yet invaluable), it is important to take a comparative approach. But first, let me say: I don’t believe it is possible to live in society without stereotypes, especially in a pluralistic democracy. For a stereotype is the mechanism the mind uses to process the universe, to make it coherent through the use of categories. Young and old, liberal and conservative, fat and thin, tall and short, bright and ignorant… We all depend on these reductive types. In a democracy made of a plurality of selves, the stereotype is the mechanism through which we digest the background, the ancestry of those around us: Italians, Jews, Asians, Blacks, Irish, Mexican…

What is the difference between a type, a prototype, an archetype, and a stereotype? They are all variations on the same theme, although the variation entails a degree of excess, perhaps even abuse. A type is a simple category; a prototype is a typical or preliminary model of something; an archetype is an original that has been imitated; and a stereotype is a wildly-held but oversimplified image of a person or a thing.

Stereotypes are the food of parody because parody depends on accepted, often-misconstrued knowledge. To see a thing parodied, the viewer must have a referent, e.g., that which is being ridiculed. In photography, the device builds on prior visuals, even when that knowledge is partial. I admire two photographers whose work I describe as parody: Hank Willis Thomas, who is African-American and Adál, from Puerto Rico. Willis Thomas’ image Smokin’ Joe Ain’t J’mama, for instance, is an injunction on how race is perceived in America. It comments on the way the big black woman in the Aunt Jemima pancake brand is seen as appealing. The brand was inspired in a popular 19th-century song, “Old Aunt Jemima,” supposedly composed in 1875 by the minstrel show performer Billy Kersands, although it has been argued—by Sterling Stuckey—that the lyrics actually come from slave songs. ¨The monkey dressed in soldier clothes,/ Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!¨

The artist replaces the face of Aunt Jemima with that of a black man who sits in front of pancakes, syrup, butter, and a glass of milk. Wearing a green sweater and an unshaved look, he wears a grandma’s colonial hat. What’s the effect? Our response is automatic. There is something placid, even anachronistic about the pose. Unlike black women, black men are perceived as threatening. Indeed, this man has his right fist up, in a sign of defiance. He doesn’t look at us hoping to offer comfort but, instead, offers a gesture that is between aggressive and bewildered. Is he ready to smile? Might he attack us?

The meaning of the photograph changes, or rather, it becomes apparent, when we decode its title: Smoking Joe is the boxer Joe Frazier, known as Smokin’ Joe, whose face is used in the image.

-Ilan Stavans

Next Article, Picturing Diversity: I Am Stereotype (part 2-b).

Ilan Stavans, one of today’s preeminent essayists, cultural critics, and translators, is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture and Five College-Fortieth Anniversary Professor at Amherst College. His books include Spanglish(2003), Love and Language (2007), and Gabriel García Márquez: The Early Years (2010), Return to Centro Histórico: A Mexican Jew Looks for His Roots (Rutgers, 2012), and the graphic novel El Iluminado (Basic, 2012, with Steve Sheinkin). He is the editor of The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories (1998), The Poetry of Pablo Neruda(2003), the 3-volume set of Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories (2004), Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing (2009), The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2010), and The FSG Books of 20th-Century Latin American Poetry (2011), and a guest writer for Nueva Luz, volume 10#1 (2004).

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