Opening: En Foco/In Focus at Venice Arts April 5th

Ricky Flores ,  FDNY Dispatch: Is There a Fire Over   There?  ,   1983

Ricky Flores, FDNY Dispatch: Is There a Fire Over There?, 1983

Venice Arts will host the Los Angeles debut of En Foco/ In Focus: Selected Works from the Permanent Collection from April 5th – May 5th. Established in 1974, En Foco is a New York based non profit dedicated to diversity in the field of photography and home to the first permanent collection dedicated to U.S. based photographers of African, Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern and Native American descent. The collection boasts early works by Dawoud Bey, Myra Greene and Ricky Flores amongst others. Spanning across three decades, the En Foco Collection represents the missing cultural perspective in photographic history.

In a recent interview with En Foco photographer Ricky Flores we discussed how living in New York informs his work and how his photographs reflect his life.

CM: The piece in the En Foco exhibition, FDNY Dispatch: Is There a Fire Over There? illustrates what you describe on your website as “planned shrinkage,” a policy wherein police and fire services were withdrawn from areas in hopes of decreasing the population. In the image Carlos and Boogie, we see a beautiful and seemingly fun life moment—uniquely New York—between two men on the subway system. Looking at these images I can’t help but think of your iconic image from 9/11. These images all remind me of my years in New York and how just being there, from the everyday of shuffle between boroughs to dealing with the aftermath of September 11, continues to inform the way I see the world. Can you describe for us what your experience was like during this time and what motivated you to document the moments featured in these two images?

Ricky Flores , Carlos and Boogie, 1982

Ricky Flores, Carlos and Boogie, 1982

RF: There are many places in the world but not many have an iconic image like that of New York City. During the time that I was photographing my community, I did so with the knowledge that I was witnessing and participating in a profound change in the landscape of the city. What started out as a simple thing of photographing my friends and family became something more simply by the context and time that it took place.

Initially, I used photography as a way to discover who I was as a young Puerto Rican descendent living on the streets of the South Bronx. I was, like many of my friends from my community, a creation of two very distinct cultures forged by history and circumstance. Photography was the tool that helped me bridge the two cultures and allowed me to further understand the history of Puerto Ricans in the United States, and to begin to question the political and social ramifications of being of Puerto Rican descent.

Photographing my community, coupled with the turbulent and violent transformation of the landscape around us, galvanized me to document what was taking place around me. It wasn’t an atypical experience to photograph a fire taking place on our block on any given day, just like it wasn’t atypical to take photos of kids playing in the park or on the street or in some abandoned building.  It was a commonplace experience for us.  It always struck us as funny when people would express some horror when we would relate a tale from the block or just simply state that we were from the South Bronx. A social stigma was instantly attached to that pronouncement, one that continues to take place even today.

It was in that context that I took many of my photographs, what might look like an amazing collection of photos of the South Bronx in upheaval was simply my personal photos of my friends and my family.

To read more of this interview with Ricky Flores visit the website for the Arts at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco here, it served as the first stop on the En Foco/In Focus exhibition to the west coast.

Exhibition Open at Venice Arts : April 5th – May 5th, 2013

Collette McGruder