Saturday was the East Harlem/Spanish Harlem Borough Walk. Joseph Rodriguez led the walk. We basically covered 125th Street to 105th Street from 5th Avenue to 1st Avenue. It was a very successful walk and I will have more pictures up of the entire walk tomorrow.
For tonight, however, I want to zoom in on one 20 minute period of the walk that took place between 117th and 118th Streets. I don’t know how the event started as part of my job is to make sure the stragglers don’t get lost but I know most of the scene.
First, a little background on Joe. He is a graduate of ICP and he has made a very successful career as a documentary photographer. (Link to his web page is here.) In 1990, National Geographic asked him to do a photo essay on growing up in East Harlem. It became the cover story in May 1990 issue which was extremely unusual at the time.
The Geographic did not often focus on urban stories. After finishing the photo essay, Joe kept shooting in East Harlem and made a book in 1995. Spanish Harlem, “American Scene Series”, National Museum of American Art/D.A.P.
Back to the walk. As the few of us came up to the group, they were all in front of one of the many urban gardens that are springing up all over New York and Joe was having a discussion with a man from the neighborhood while showing him his book. The gentleman, Jose Santiago, got to page 40 (I think – don’t quote me) and said: “That’s me.” He turned a page and said “That’s my family, my brother, sister-in-law who recently passed and my sister”. Later he saw his sister’s first boyfriend in a picture (I think, again don’t quote me, I needed to keep track of the walkers and could not focus.) This caused a certain commotion, as you can imagine. Other people in the neighborhood stopped to look and listen. The man called his sister who came down. The “president” of the garden came down and opened it so we could shoot inside it.
This was truly a great moment. truly a photographer’s moment. As Joe said, you should always come back to places you shoot because who knows who you will meet and reconnect with.
I was able to take a few shots though they don’t really do the scene justice. Here you go.