Monday, February 17, 2014

Frank Espada, Photographer of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Is Dead

By Claudio Iván Remeseira Follow @HispanicNewYork | Posted Mon.,  Feb. 17, 2014, at 12:20 p.m.ET.

Frank Espada  / Photo: George Soler (2010)
Frank Espada, one of the greatest photographers of his generation, died on February 23 at his San Francisco home of an unexpected heart attack. He was 83.

Born in Utuado, Puerto Rico, in 1930, he migrated with his family to New York City 9 years later. In his website, Frank recalled his personal history and his beginnings with photography:
  My background is not unusual for a Puerto Rican immigrant. We were quite poor, always struggling to make ends meet, living in apartments with no hot water or refrigerators, with no heat in the winter and rats in the hallways. I was never going to be a Boy Scout, for the uniform cost $14. My first bed was a necessity of my marriage, for which I bought my first suit.
I went through the public school system, where my name was immediately changed. I thought this was a good thing at the time, for everyone told me we had to act like Americans. I tried college, found it not to my liking (my chemistry professor bluntly told me that I "would not make it"). I joined the Air Force, and in 1952 married Marilyn. We proceeded to raise a family of three: Lisa, Jason and Martín, all independent, progressive, creative and outspoken, and all quite different.
Photography became an important element in my life early on. I attended The New York Institute of Photography in New York City on the GI Bill, where I learned that I was not going to be a commercial photographer that I would forever stay away from formal education. But I was encouraged by one of my instructors to follow my first love, documentary photography, which I have pursued diligently all my life. I was fortunate to have some of the greatest role models to emulate: Gene Smith, with whom I studied; and Dave Heath, a friend and teacher, being the most influential.

Frank's masterpiece, The Puerto Rican Diaspora, is the ultimate photographic document of the journey that hundred of thousands of boricuas started when they left their island for the urban wilderness of New York or the sugar cane plantations of Hawaii. 

Bronx-born fellow photographer David Gonzalez mourns the loss of this master, here. Read also José Acosta's tribute at El Diario La Prensa (In Spanish) 

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