Back in 1999, I was relatively new to the United States and to my studies as a photographer. While I had a mentor at the time, an AP photographer, I became close to El Diario/La Prensa photographer Jose Rivera when I attended the annual NYPPA exhibit at the Forbes Gallery. When I walked up to Jose’s photo a shot of a young man jumping from a fire escape it pulled me in not only with its reportage, but also with what it elicited in me. As a photography student at the time, his photo was one of the first I saw that illustrated the moment when a photographer distances himself from an event, as heartless as that can be, in order to capture the gravity of what is going on. Just like the subject in the photo, I, as a viewer, found myself identifying with the moment the subject makes a life-changing decision. The photo seems to ask “When your back is up against the wall, will you be able to leap into the unknown, uncertain of what comes next?”
When I look back at Rivera’s photos, it’s like reading a carefully composed essay about the city. It is such a large body of work: every occasion from the sunny tranquility of parades and political victories, to the frenzy of breaking news and the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Jose Rivera is one of the city’s more prolific photojournalists, creating a body of work that captures more than 30 years of the history of New York’s Latinos. I can also say that he is a good friend, one that you want to be elbow to elbow with on a press line documenting the life of Hispanics in this metropolis.