“The way the art form is evolving now, we don’t know where it’s going to go, but we’re sure more people are involved more than ever. “
In recent years, there has been a renewed discussion about who holds the camera and who documents historical events and everyday life. There have been museum retrospectives aimed at putting things right, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition of New Women photographers around the world to the Whitney exhibit dedicated to the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of black photographers in New York City. which started in the 1960s. Over the past decade, organizations like Diversify Photo and Indigenous Photograph have been formed to elevate non-white artists and photographers. En Foco, a Bronx-based nonprofit photography organization made up of people who have made art together and championed other photographers, is unique in that the organization has been around for almost 50 years. .
A group of Nuyorican photographers got together in 1974 and decided to form an organization to help artists of color from all walks of life. En Foco remains active today as a bridge between the art world at large and photographers from underserved communities. The organization organizes shows and workshops for young and emerging photographers and publishes a photo magazine, Nueva Luz.
The collective launched Nueva Luz in 1985, and the publication not only provided a crucial platform for artists of color, but also addressed social and cultural issues, from immigration to life in the Caribbean diaspora on the way. by the HIV / AIDS epidemic.
“En Foco was created because it provided opportunities for artists of color,” said current executive director Bill Aguado. “In the late 1960s and early 1970s, artists were discriminated against, whether they were photographers, poets, dancers or actors. There were no opportunities unless it was stereotypes. As for the photographers, they did not have access to subsidies. They did not have access to resources. A group of photographers including Charles Biasiny-Rivera, Phil Dante and Roger Cabán formed En Foco in part to address these issues.
The goal has never been to be a top-down bureaucratic organization, but to help create a level playing field for artists of color and to support artists’ individual efforts and group projects. “It was important to create En Foco because there were very few arts organizations representing artists of color at the time,” Biasiny-Rivera said. “It was also an important resource for the Bronx and its marginalized communities in general.”
While En Foco started out as a group of only Puerto Rican and Latin American artists, it grew in the 1980s. Nueva Luz became a platform for more artists to get involved with En Foco, and it has become a visual record of Bronx culture and the history of the local art scene. In recent years, the organization has digitized back issues of Nueva Luz, so that everyone now has access to the online archives and can see the artists who have contributed to En Foco’s mission from 1985 to the present day. Their physical records were damaged by Hurricane Ida, which hit New York City in September.
“En Foco has become a beacon for photographers to engage in dialogues and forge venues to present their work,” said Frank Gimpaya, a photographer and designer who helped create Nueva Luz. En Foco artists have had exhibitions in museums in New York and across the country, including the The family show at El Museo del Barrio and a traveling exhibition by Elizabeth Ferrer.
Gimpaya, who has championed the exhibition of marginalized artists for decades, said of those conversations in 2021 that it “is exciting to see the flourishing of this dialogue and the changes in perception that this interest has brought about. It enables to invent, reflect on and promote new lexicons.
Aguado believes it is important to create artistic platforms in such a way that the public has access to them, and he pursues this mission as director of En Foco. “What’s even more special, as one artist told me, he said: ‘My work lives on forever thanks to En Foco. [People] can search for my name and they will find out that I am part of an exhibition, or that I am part of a community, or that I am in Nueva Luz. ‘ The way the art form is evolving now, we don’t know where it’s going to go, but we’re sure more people are involved than ever before.