The average, US journalist can be described as white and male, according to a 2016 study that surveyed 737 news organizations. Studies and personal accounts seem to indicate the same can be said for the average photojournalist. While a growing chorus of minority visual reporters and editors are calling for more diversity in newsrooms and in the field, the photojournalism industry is responding to these demands for changes at a frustratingly slow rate. As The New York Times’ Lens Blog has consistently reported, much debate on the topic has been generated, but much less has been done to address the outrage.
Fortunately, new platforms such as Women Photograph, Natives Photograph, Diversity Photo, Native Agency, and Foto Féminas are elevating the work of minority and female photojournalists through interviews, databases, mentorship programs, and scholarships – all in an attempt to break through the photojournalism industry’s homogenous makeup. When editors incorporate intersectional perspectives into the newsrooms, these projects argue, the public, which turns to photojournalism to widen their worldview, benefits.
With Latino photojournalists also underrepresented in the industry, we’ve selected 10 Latino documentary photographers – established and emergent – who are breaking ground in the field and, despite the hurdles of the profession, shining a light on meaningful, yet often underreported stories. Many have turned their lens toward the people and sights they grew up with such as Adeline Lulo and Dakota Santiago, who report on the Dominican diaspora and the New York City working class, respectively. In doing so, these photographers offer a nuanced, insider’s view to a story that may otherwise be simplified or overlooked. Still, documentary photographers such as Joseph Rodriguez while reporting on issues close to him, also defies assumptions of what Latinos are expected to report.
Ultimately, what the rise of these 10 photojournalists suggests is that Latino photographers are diverse, inspired, and here to stay.
Erika P. Rodriguez
After Hurricane María swept through Puerto Rico, journalists parachuted onto the island to capture the aftermath of the Category 5 hurricane. Boricua photographer Erika P. Rodriguez had to take only one look at her apartment and family to understand the level of devastation of the storm. As she and her family dealt with the effects, Rodriguez also reported for The New York Times on the disaster that had affected the 3.3 million people living on the island. “It was a very different experience seeing it on the ground,” Rodriguez told Remezcla. “And seeing your backyard and your family home destroyed.”
Most of Rodriguez’s journalistic work feeds into The Oldest Colony, her long-term project on Puerto Rico that raises questions over the US territory’s identity, autonomy, and future after 500 years of colonization. Rodriguez’s series is a comprehensive study of the Puerto Rican people in flux as they contend with racial identity, the tourism industry, religion, the influence of US mainland culture, nationalism, the Puerto Rican liberation movement, and migration.
Born in Queens to an Ecuadorian family, Karen Miranda-Rivadeneira has often meditated on ancestral tradition and how it can be incorporated into contemporary life. This line of inquiry led the Ecuadorian-American photographer to document how native populations across the world grapple with the same issue. In the multimedia project Omeede, nominated for a Greenpeace Photo Award in 2016, Miranda-Rivadeneira weaves together a story on the survival efforts of the Waorani people, native to an Amazonian region of eastern Ecuador that today is threatened by state-sponsored, oil extraction projects.
In Omeede, Miranda-Rivadeneira presents a stream of dreamy, black-and-white photographs that take the viewer through quotidian life for the Waorani amidst the Amazon rainforest’s dense jungles and pristine rivers. Heard throughout the video is a woman’s seemingly otherworldly chant, which is, in fact, performed during very common occurrences, whilst at home or tending animals, according to Miranda-Rivadeneira. Currently based in New Mexico, Miranda-Rivadeneira assures in an interview she will return to the Yasuní National Park, home of the Waorani, to start Omeede Part II, expected to be a collaborative, documentary project with the Waorani women.
At a young age, Washington Heights native Adeline Lulo learned to cherish her summers in the Dominican Republic. There, she chased roosters and lizards, and ate mangos from her grandfather’s tree. When she could no longer return during the summers because of work, Lulo’s longing to reconnect to the island channeled into Si Dios Quiere (God Willing), a stunning portrayal of Dominicans in the homeland and abroad.
Photographed using saturated color film, the series Si Dios Quiere betrays a tint of nostalgia that is reflected in some of her subjects. While her project started as an exploration of the people and places of the Dominican Republic, in 2015, she decided to include the Dominican diaspora in New York City, a common destination for Dominican immigrants. The Dominican people’s affinity for family, culture, and tradition are evident in her photographs as well as a yearning for home, which as Lulo explains is “partly here and partly there.”
Joseph Rodriguez started his decades-long career after a stint at Rikers Island in New York City. “Photography became a way for me to change my life,” Rodriguez told American Suburb X in 2011. He photographed what he knew: mostly his Nuyorican family and his barrio. Some years later, as a student at the International Center for Photography, Rodriguez embarked on his first major project, an insider’s look at Spanish Harlem that bypassed stereotypes and generalizations. His series of images contrasted with news reports at the time that focused on crime in Spanish Harlem. Instead, he photographed a family enjoying an afternoon together, children playing street games, and friends huddled on a stoop while never shirking his responsibility to cover the social problems affecting the neighborhood, such as gentrification, police brutality, poverty, drug addiction, and teenage pregnancy.
Rodriguez went on to photograph the “gangsta” lifestyle of East Los Angeles, survivors of Hurricane Katrina, the juvenile justice system, sex workers in Mexico City, and many other marginalized peoples. His work has been published in six photo books and in the National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, Mothers Jones, and other news outlets.
For most of his career, Mexican-American photographer James Rodriguez has documented the aftermath of the Guatemalan civil war. In 1996, the Guatemalan government signed a peace agreement with leftist rebels, putting an end to 36 years of armed conflict that left 200,000 dead. Rodriguez arrived in the Central American country in 2004 when he started to work for Peace Brigades International, an accompaniment program for human rights defenders. After completing his time with the NGO, Rodriguez initiated an online media project that documented human rights issues, violence, social mobilizations, and the after-effects of the war.
With the help of his mentor and neighbor, Rodrigo Abd, Rodriguez homed his photography skills and became one of Latin America’s most recognizable photojournalists. In his photo essay “Guatemala, Life After Genocide,” Rodriguez accompanies families — many of them Indigenous campesinos — on their search for their disappeared loved ones, some of which have finally come to a close after recent exhumations of mass graves. Rodriguez’s camera doesn’t shrink away from the difficult moments; it keeps steady as families and community dig up skeletal remains, hold funeral ceremonies and memorials for war victims, and bury loved ones.
In 2016, Indigenous activists and allies arrived in North Dakota to support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their resistance to the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. At the beckoning of his uncle who is from the reservation, so did Josue Rivas, with a camera in hand. The Mexica and Otomi photographer stayed at the Standing Rock reservation for the next seven months. Instead of photographing the violent clashes between police and water protectors, Rivas found inspiration in the hope and resilience of a burgeoning Indigenous movement. “To me this is a personal story so I tend to focus less in the obvious, and I try to dig a little deeper,” Rivas told PDN.
This months-long study resulted in Standing Strong, an intimate, black-and-white portrayal of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s resistance to the construction of a 1,172-mile pipeline that crosses through sacred lands and threatens their water supply. With the Standing Rock camp closed down, Standing Strong, today an award-winning book, is an enduring record of one of the most important gatherings of Indigenous peoples from across the world. As an advocate of Indigenous storytelling, Rivas also co-founded Natives Photograph, a database of Indigenous visual journalists to increase representation in the media industry.
Cassandra Giraldo’s eye tends to linger on the soft, often overlooked moments in our daily lives. While she studied at the International Center of Photography, Giraldo befriended two girls, April and Desire, who she photographed as they navigated their middle school years. This first set of images inspired Giraldo to take a closer look at the secret lives of teenagers during after school hours. The After School Project sees what the rest of us may miss: the tender gaze of a teenage couple, the unconditional friendship of an emo clique, the beaming confidence of a 16-year-old high schooler.
“With photojournalism, the assumption is that it has to be issue-based or hard-hitting or news-oriented, but I feel that often the best stories are born from some of these lighter moments,” Giraldo, an associate producer at Vice News Tonight on HBO, said in 2015. In the After School Project, Giraldo manages to capture these lighter moments, and convey a world that feels carefree and authentic. This feel-good vibe is also present in other works of Giraldo such as The Gentle Punks and Crazy ‘Fur’ Obama.
While much has been said of the US manufacturing industry’s decline, much less is known about the blue collar workers facing the economic fallout. Photographer Dakota Santiago, who grew up in a working-class family in Bayonne, New Jersey, knows firsthand the people and places behind the headlines. His father delivered newspapers for the New York Daily News for more than 50 years while his uncle drove a waste management truck. Santiago, who still resides in New Jersey, also works for the mailers and deliveries department for the Daily News, and covers stories in the City on his days off.
While a photography student at the New Jersey City University, Santiago studied urban decay in local neighborhoods in one of his first photo essays. Later, he returned to the manufacturing districts he remembered from his childhood. There, he started “Working Class New York,” his debut work on the New Yorkers that built the city and keep it operating. Shot on medium format film, this series of portraits take us to New York City’s scrap yards, warehouses, construction sites, auto shops, and MTA rail lines. While these workers may be the foundation of the city, they usually get little press or appreciation. “When you’re in Manhattan you see it all, but where did it come from? And nobody really asks and nobody really cares. I wanted to bring that out, I just wanted to put a face of the workers that keep this city running,” Santiago told Time.
September 5, 2018 at 11:45 a.m. ET: This entry has been updated. It originally misstated that Santiago grew up in New York City.
Carlos Javier Ortiz
How does one photograph violence without descending into sensationalism? Carlos Javier Ortiz offers a way. Born in San Juan and raised in Chicago, the multimedia journalist has spent more than a decade documenting violence and the scars it leaves in its wake. In Too Young to Die and We All We Got, his award-winning series on youth violence and gun violence respectively, Ortiz connected with families and communities across the United States and in Guatemala. His subjects were both victims and perpetrators of violence, people who Ortiz considers are often overlooked.
While embedded in the communities he documented, Ortiz witnessed the cycle of violence close up: the children he photographed grew up and adopted problematic behaviors from other teens while subjects who became friends were murdered. Some of the images Ortiz takes are hard to look at, such as those of a wailing mother at a crime scene or a funeral for an 11-year-old. However, others, such as an image of teens playing at a block party or of a family cooling off at the lake offer a more hopeful perspective on a multifaceted community.
Ortiz has also reported on migrant labor, the American Dream, and the Great Migration.
With rising housing prices and displacement threatening the identity and makeup of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, visual journalist Sebastian Hidalgo set out to document the predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood before it changes forever. A Pilsen native and trained photojournalist, Hidalgo takes a stance against gentrification in his long-term project, The Quietest Form of Displacement in a Barrio.
In his series, he photographs moments similar to those he experienced as a child: One image shows a girl floating in a stream of water formed from an open fire hydrant, another a group of girls playing with inflated toys. These tender moments feel fragile juxtaposed to images that reveal social problems the neighborhood faces, such as gun violence and gentrification. Hidalgo hopes his essay on gentrification in Pilsen can galvanize viewers “to demand and scream for change,” he told The New York Times‘ Lens Blog.