During the time that Joseph Rodriguez was visiting I learned something very valuable and i was not alone. The new techniques and feelings that Joseph used to show his audience, were very deep. The photos had a lot of meaning and symbolism, expression, and different points of view. During his presentation I also noticed the way he talked about his journeys around the world. The different kinds of stories he had behind his photos, and all the different people he met, touched me in a way. Seeing a well known famous artist such as Rodriguez inspired me to do the same with my photography. He taught me something about his art: he loves what he does.
After Joseph Rodriguez’ artist talk, AS220 Youth member Ronya Traynham had a chance to sit down and interview the well known artist. They spoke about his struggles, his identity as an artist and his personal perspectives on his work.
I’ve noticed that a lot of your photos are in black & white. Do you prefer black & white photos over color?
I like black & white, but I like color as well so I use both. It dependson the project. With the gang project I used black & white. At the time most of the media was using color because they were into the whole Blood / Crip thing. It was easy for them to show the red and blue rags, but I wanted to use black and white because it takes away all the color and it’s very cerebral. It gives you information that you look at, and forces you to look at something in a way that is void of all color. So, that was important for me.
Has there ever been a project that was very emotional for you?
I would say that Spanish Harlem was very emotional for me because it was extremely personal. Los Angeles was also very personal because I spent a lot of time with people. When you spend a lot of time with people you’re opening up, listening and understanding who they are. Those conversations and those experiences they just don’t go away. You live with them.
What process do you go through to find individuals for your photography and are there any challenges in this process?
Biggest Challenge, let’s just put it in numbers. For every hundred people that say no there’s always one person to say yes, and that is basically trying to get access to this person’s life, to this person’s story, so I usually go through a very sort of nervous stressful time when I start a project.
How do you create an emotional bond with these people?
I use the foundations of journalism. The “Who?” “What?” “When?” “Where?” and “Why?” Those are the basic questions that I have when I’m meeting someone. The beginning of the conversation will help me understand whether or not we may have the possibility to grow with this person and do more work with this person or not.
Have you ever thought about quitting photography?
Sometimes, but I wouldn’t know what else to do right now. Maybe I would go work for Whole Foods or something. (laughs) I guess cause I like all that healthy stuff. It would be great to make a film.
How do you want people to interpret your work?
Human. I’m a humanist. I think we connect with each other on this planet through photography. That’s kind of why it was invented; so we could see our lives, and we could see where we live. Photography is not pase, not by any means. It’s actually growing in a lot of different ways now. It’s the way I was raised with these humanistic values of listening and of caring and being interested in someone else’s life, and maybe someone else being interested in your life.
You used to work with the National Geographic but stopped working with them. Was it because they were kind of looking more for the story?
I think the stories that I wanted to produce and create, they would not publish. They wouldn’t publish the gang story, they wouldn’t publish the juveniles. I grew up at a time in America when social justice was pretty much on the street. I mean civil rights, I grew up with young lords and black panthers. It was very difficult when I was around your age because a lot of people were being assassinated. I mean Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, John F Kennedy, it was kind of weird that all these people that we as a nation, looked up to, whether you’re African-American or not, and then all of a sudden they’re not here anymore. So politics, something that we grew up with, but not necessary reading it through the news media, was just living it.
Have people ever said that your work comes off too strong?
Lots of times.
And how do you deal with that?
Thats their problem. I mean listen, remember something, life is something you cannot escape. As much as we want to escape from it, we can’t because it tends to come back at us, whether its now or later. It took me a long time to ever be this comfortable in telling my story. But sometimes I think all of us get tired of other people telling us what we’re supposed to do and how were supposed to do it. The great thing about working with art is that you can actually make your own story. I mean yes, you will have to compromise in certain degrees to get stuff published or get seen or get shown, but I mean look at documentary filmmaking today, you’ve never seen as many documentaries on youtube like you do today. Its amazing. So you know, its really the landscape, the story. There’s always people interested in story.
Downstairs you were talking about the immigrants and them crossing the border. I went to Mexico myself and did a live volunteer work and I noticed that a lot of them told a story about their families. So going down there and seeing what others took, what did you take home like back from that?
Well, I think in especially Mexico, theres a strong sense of family. I think we really lost that here in the United States.
Are there any things that you would want to tell any as220 members who are inspired and want to do photography?
I think its great. Im happy to be here, I looked you guys up, I saw the video you guys did. I think this is a wonderful very special place, I really do. Its rare to find a space like this in New York City today. So I think you can learn a lot here and the freedom they allow you to make these bodies of work and put them up on a wall and put them outside on the street, even put them in the windows.
AS220 sends a special thanks to the wonderful Joseph Rodriguez for coming to talk and work with us at the studio & Rhode Island Training School! We very much appreciate it and we hope the best for you.
Be on the lookout for the latest issue of The Hidden Truth for more of Edwin Pastor’s reflection on Joseph Rodriguez’ Artist Talk!