Blog: Inspiration Between the Lines

Q&A with Elizabeth Ferrer, Curator and Author of Latinx Photography in the United States: A Visual History

Latinx Photography in the United States: A Visual History, the first book of its kind, is the brainchild of Elizabeth Ferrer – a writer, curator, arts activist and administrator. The book, scheduled for release in November 2020, offers a comprehensive introduction to the visual insights of over 80 photographers. Broadening and enriching the scope and definition of American photography, the "it" explores family, identity, protest, borders, and experiences of immigration and marginalization common to many Latinx communities. 

From documentary, street photography and the family photograph to narrative series, conceptual projects and social media imagery, Ferrer’s extensive background as an international curator offers a substantive framework for the introduction of the work to the broader public. Looking to expand the visibility of Latinx photography, inspire further research and establish an ongoing institutional presence, Ferrer’s work is a vital contribution to current conversations on what it means to be American, both inside and outside the world of art.

Hiram Maristany, Hydrant, In the Air, 1963

DUGGAL ART SCENE: Let's begin by defining the term Latinx. What does it mean and is it unique to an American context or does it span multiple continents?

ELIZABETH: The very question of how people of Latin American descent in the United States refer to themselves is complex and likely not something we’ll ever all agree on, as we represent an incredibly diverse scope of people. Simply speaking, Latinx is a gender-neutral form of Latino, a term that in itself has been favored over “Hispanic,” which was actually introduced as a census category but lingers in the media. Whatever the term, it is an umbrella for people who can trace their ancestry to Mexico, to Cuba, to Colombia, or to Central American countries. I use the term intentionally because of its inclusivity in terms of gender, but also, because I see it as  forward looking and adapted with a sense of self-affirmation.

LA Raza, Daniel Zapata, Young Families  

Hiram Maristany, The Bronx March, The People’s Church, 1969

DUGGAL ART SCENE: Latinx Photography in the United States: A Visual History is not only a labor of love, but also fills a huge void in terms of resources within the field of art history. More specifically, it offers a rich tapestry of images and imagemakers to students and enthusiasts of the history of photography within the United States. Can you tell us a bit about your process over many years of researching and curating the book?

ELIZABETH: This book had a long gestation. For many years, I focused on curating and writing about Mexican modern and contemporary art. I curated exhibitions that traveled extensively in the United States in the 1990s, when there was an emerging interest in this country in Mexican and, more broadly, Latin American, art.  I found myself working more and more with photography; Mexico has an unusually distinguished history with the medium. I loved this work - the travel, the artists themselves, the opportunities I had to expose the art to museums all across the United States. But I was becoming increasingly aware that there were photographers much closer to home that were essentially invisible outside their communities. 

I began to work on projects with En Foco, a photographers’ organization founded in the 1970s by a group of Puerto Rican photographers in New York (their mission had since expanded to support photographers of color more generally). I got to know so many talented photographers who were essentially invisible, whose work was not being seen in magazines or gallery walls.  The more I learned, the more committed I became to writing this book. There has been no book on the history of Latinx photography before this one, no comprehensive museum exhibition, no major collection. My book will act as an introduction but there is still much work to be done!

Rachelle Mozman Solano, En el cuarto de la niña, from the series Casa de Mujeres, 2010

DUGGAL ART SCENE: Knowledge of the history of Latinx communities—dating back for centuries within the United States—is woefully absent outside of specialized contexts, specific communities and geographic locations. What is the importance of offering and centering a visual, photographic representation of this presence and its legacies in our current political moment? 

ELIZABETH: Latinx people comprise about 18% of the U.S. population and we’ve been here for centuries, as you say. We are a diverse population geographically, culturally, politically, etc. But it’s valuable to consider these bodies of work in tandem because of all that we share: above all, the legacy of Spanish colonialism, a language, and, as well, persistent racism and marginalization. When these photographers examine such issues as migration, exile, family, or the sense of cultural hybridity that comes from being Puerto Rican, Chicano, etc., they are presenting aspects of the American experience. Until there is greater acknowledgment of the broader, richer realities of what it is to be American, then legacies of racism and marginalization will continue to hinder the advancement of our nation. For me, this work is also a vital component of the history of American photography; so much is missing from the documented history of photography, and I hope this book begins to fill some of those gaps.

Veteranas and Rucas

DUGGAL ART SCENE: Finally, what surprised you the most about the interconnectedness or lack thereof among the Latinx photographers, and their images and interests, included in Latinx Photography in the United States: A Visual History?

ELIZABETH: Interesting question because it points to one of the issues that underlies the invisibility of Latinx people - there is not nearly enough dialogue among, say, Latinx artists on the East and West coasts, or even between Chicanxs in California and other parts of the country. We always benefit when we connect. The Getty-sponsored Pacific Standard Time LA/LA in 2017 became the platform for several dozen exhibitions that reflected a fuller range of Latinx art than had ever been presented. This massive effort was only made possible with tremendous financial support from the Getty. Latinx cultural institutions that have been committed to these kinds of projects for decades remain severely under-funded and don’t have the capacity to launch these kinds of projects that would promote more sharing among artistic communities throughout the U.S.

Harry Gamboa Jr., from the series Chicano Male Unbonded, 2010. Left: Salomon Huerta, Artist. Right: Father Richard Estrada, Priest, Church of the Epiphany (Episcopal Church) 

Find out more about Latinx Photography in the United States: A Visual History here: www.uwapress.uw.edu/book/9780295747637/latinx-photography-in-the-united-states

Elzabeth Ferrer curatorial projects and more: www.elizabethferrer.net/exhibitions

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