New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Cultural Memory - Two Approaches
Martin Weber and Joseph Rodriguez
Cultural Memory Matters
Reviewer #1
Martin Weber, “I want my country to be free of political and domestic violence. Quiero que mi país sea libre de la violencia, política y familiar. Quetzaltenango, Guatemala”, 2004,

This show brings together two documentary photographers who have built substantial bodies of work over the course of several decades. Both of Hispanic origin and currently living in New York, they each have a penchant for photographing poor people, yet their fundamental approaches and intentions are widely disparate.

The work of Martin Weber is the more wide-ranging of the two geographically. Since 1992 he has traveled and photographed in large areas of South and Central America producing “A Map of Latin American Dreams.” In this series photographic setup and lighting as well as subject interaction are carefully prepared. With each picture a central figure is asked to write a wish or a dream on a small blackboard. Then, often surrounded by other members of his or her family or community, they are photographed holding the board. The approach is quite effective. Visually the portraits are handsome, in a traditional, well-modeled photographic way, They often take on a 19th century grandeur, as the principle subject is surrounded by others, all facing the camera, with varying degrees of dignity. The backgrounds, which are often populated as well, add yet another level of interest and commentary.

The blackboard wishes tend to be mundane and usually not too revealing, and yet, by offering an insight into the thought processes of the subject, they provide an intriguing key into the photograph. (As a portraiture technique it is probably also effective in establishing a sense of trust of the photographer in the sitter.)

The results are fascinating photographs. They seem to go on for hours, giving us ample time to absorb the well-chosen faces, dress, environment, and yes, even the appropriateness of the chalkboard message.

 by unidentified photographer.
Joseph Rodriguez, “Porky and Pony from Marianna Maravilla gang, East Los Angeles”, 1992

The work of Joseph Rodriguez has concentrated on life in the United States. This exhibition features his earliest work, living with the gangs of East Los Angeles, and later documenting life in New York’s Spanish Harlem. (There are video slide shows at the gallery of other portfolios.) In this sense he has followed one of the oldest of documentary traditions, spending many hours and years integrating himself into the lives of the people he is photographing. Given Rodriguez’s own personal journey out of these environments his work is deeply personal and has a strong redemptive quality to it.

Unlike Martin Weber, Rodriguez’s style is highly cinematic. You are not seduced into spending time looking carefully at the shape of someone’s face. There is always something happening at the moment the shutter is pressed, and there is always another scene that is ready to appear. There is meaning to the scenes, and they are clearly stated – you know something bad will be happening when you see the bullets on the bed. One senses that these images are a brutal, but honest, representation of the lives being observed. There is little time here for reflection.

Martin Weber and Joseph Rodriguez
Cultural Memory Matters


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