Puerto Rico is a place of deep ancestral roots that stem back to Native American, Northern European, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Sub-Saharan African heritage. The island is known for its rich beauty, history, and culture. At the same time, Puerto Rico has suffered from hurricanes, earthquakes, political scandals, debt crises, and, currently, the pandemic.
To understand the intricacies of the Island, we have to look at those telling its stories and who better to look towards than Local Puerto Rican visual storytellers.
Here are nine visual storytellers based in Puerto Rico to watch this 2021.
Adriana Parrilla is a documentary photographer with a diverse background in photojournalism, modern languages, and ballet. Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico—her experience as a dancer has informed her approach to storytelling.
Parilla's images capture both sensitivity and power. Her distinct eye for movement and shapes expands her visual narrative, while drawing viewers in.
Parrilla’s work explores complex questions of identity, race, and resilience. ‘No Me Llames Trigueña; Soy Negra’ (Don't Call Me Trigueña; I'm Black) encapsulates the effects of the dual nature of colorism, i.e. the constant pull and push between being “too black” or “too white.”
Parrilla asks, ‘Who Am I?’ through a collection of both literal and non-literal imagery, using color and textures uniquely to convey her story. For instance, through the composite of her shadow and orange peel waste, she visually shows us the emotion tied to the experience of having, as other people have told Parrilla, “difficult hair.”
Parrilla’s other work spans various themes like disability awareness and stigma, and the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
“Historically, visual representations of Puerto Rican society have been exoticized and stigmatized. After all the uncertainty and socio-political turmoil in the United States, we have the responsibility to use these new social landscapes as a platform to break all these negative assumptions and stereotypes, and use our art as a thriving tool for the recognition and empowerment of our communities,” she says.
Adriana Parrilla is currently based in Paris, France, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. She is available for assignments globally.
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Gabriella N. Baez
Gabriella N. Baez is a visual storyteller and documentary photographer. Based in San Juan, Puerto Rico—her work as a documentary photographer is focused on covering the Caribbean. Her personal work revisits deep, intimate moments. Since 2017, she has been working on a project titled 'Ojalá nos encontremos en el mar,' (‘Hopefully we’ll meet at the sea’), which explores, as Baez says, “the psychological undercurrents of trauma,” that come with disasters like Hurricane Maria.
Baez’s intimate showcase of old family photos scanned objects like her father’s guitar picks, and passport photos contextualize the expanse of individual loss and grief that comes with trauma and crises. Her use of embroidery on archival images connects parts of herself to parts of her father and shows just how intertwined the ripples of trauma really are.
Baez’s other work covers intimate topics like queer sex work in the context of Hurricane Maria and the global Covid-19 pandemic, archives of her exiled Cuban family, and the relationship between sexuality and depression.
“As a queer photographer based in Puerto Rico and interested in covering often marginalized topics in the Caribbean, such as queerness, sex work, and suicide, work is often a bridge between the communities I work with and the editorial world; and it is only through constant collaboration and relationship building that my work is possible. As Puerto Rican artists our political experiences living under colonialism give us a nuanced perspective on politics, the impact of tourism, and the complexities of living between cultures,” Baez says.
Gabriella N. Baez is currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She is available for assignments globally.
Erika P. Rodriguez
Erika P. Rodriguez is a documentary photographer raised in San Juan and Cayey. While her education took her to California for about six years, her homeland of Puerto Rico called to her. She returned to visually narrate stories that challenge stereotypes and explore complex identities.
“There is a complexity that can only be accessed through making images with a deeper understanding of the unspoken context of a place or situation. But this goes beyond Puerto Rico, and to me it carries more weight as we are part of the Caribbean – a region that is simplified to the cliché of its natural beauty to be enjoyed by tourists,” Rodriguez says.
Her piece, ‘The Oldest Colony,’ gives you a glimpse into the contradictory life in Puerto Rico, a small island that is an unincorporated territory of the United States. This means that while Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, residents cannot vote in the U.S. presidential elections nor can they elect their own senators and representatives to the U.S. Congress. In other words, Puerto Rico is neither a U.S. state nor a sovereign nation.
Erika Rodriguez's work shows how residents of Puerto Rico are affected on a daily basis by over 500 years of colonization in both overt and understated ways.Rodriguez's other work looks at the correlation of tech and (dis)connection, politics, and socio-cultural themes. Her images were included in the book, ‘Latinx Photography in the United States: A Visual Story,’ by Elizabeth Ferrer.
Erika P. Rodriguez is currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She is available for assignments.
Ivonne Carlo is a fine art and beauty photographer with a formal background in film, video, and animation. Carlo has previous vast experience working in the commercial and editorial industries, working for both advertising and editorial clients. Her style of photography is characterized by its vibrant colors and experimental, eccentric nature. Carlo’s images often take fantastical, surreal themes.
“Since María, this island has gone from disaster to disaster. I think there is so much going on that inspires great art to be made as well as so much to say for artists. Puerto Rican visual artists are definitely in need to be featured, especially in fine art photography and digital art. I feel there is a lack of representation in those areas...” she says
Ivonne Carlo is currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she owns the boutique-style portrait studio, ‘Foto Atelier.’
Eric Rojas is a photographer and videographer based in San Juan. He got his start in photojournalism and then transitioned to commercial photography and videography. Rojas’ style ranges from documentary to editorial, and everything in between—he doesn’t like to box himself in and uses various ways to express himself.
“My creative process is basically born out of impulses...Sometimes thinking about something specific and other times I just think about capturing what seems interesting to me, always thinking about images that can serve as a historical document of my island,” he says.
Rojas builds strong conceptual snippets with his soft editorial images. In his series, ‘Nostalgia,’ he explores the feeling of loss, in previously lush spaces that have now been affected by climate change. His other work spans a diverse range of subjects like trans rights, fine-art concepts, editorial work, and documentary photo and video.
Eric Rojas is currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and works as a commercial photographer and camera operator for videos.
Alvin Báez is a Puerto Rican photojournalist with 21 years of experience under his belt. With a background in communications and history, he focuses on stories of minority and marginalized communities. The cultural pluralism of the Island informs Báez’s process and creativity. His work on Hurricane Maria shows how communities were impacted through photos that capture both color and light that highlight the emotion of devastation.
“At this time when the island of Puerto Rico faces enormous changes and challenges, due to the great economic crisis it is going through, uninterrupted migration and the effects of hurricanes, earthquakes and pandemics, we must develop stories and projects that stimulate critical thinking among societies, that create a dialogue between the U.S. diaspora and island residents, and we must join to the different voices that are fighting for a life of dignity and equity,” he says.
Alvin Báez is currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Alejandro Granadillo is a Venezuelan visual storyteller based in Puerto Rico for more than five years, who evolved from being a still photographer into a videographer. His most recent video, Ghost Town, shows Puerto Rico in its uncharacteristically empty persona during the March lockdown, after being hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Granadillio’s video, The Day the Earth Didn’t Stood Still, he shows the effects of the earthquake that hit Puerto Rico in January 2020. His juxtaposition of vibrant colors and clever use of asymmetry show the viewer the havoc created in a once beautiful place now impacted by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake.
“Some call it an earthquake, some call it just tremors. Some others say that it is like divine intervention. All I can say is the earth was shaking,” Granadillo says.
Alejandro Granadillo is currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and is available for assignments globally.
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Nahira Montcourt is a photojournalist and documentary photographer in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she focuses on documenting protests, local politics, and natural disasters.
Montcourt’s images are direct and to the point. They put the viewer right in the middle of the action, drawing attention to political events and socio-economic issues.
“More than inspiring, our art must contribute to a profound sense of self-awareness and expand the limits of our senses. It must bring our existential vulnerabilities to the foreground and allow ourselves to take care, empathize and connect with the daily suffering and resistance of humanity. From the local political disasters to the traumatic experiences of Hurricane Irma and María and the most recent earthquakes, Puerto Rican women, along with our black and queer communities, have proved time and time again that our lives are revolutionary. We will persist, and our art is our legacy,” Moncourt says.
Nahira Montcourt is based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She is available for assignments globally.
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José A. Alvarado Jr.
José A. Alvarado Jr. is a New York-based Puerto Rican photographer who specializes in documenting class inequality, civic engagement, and contemporary in both Puerto Rico and New York City.
“For me being a Nuyorican photographer goes far beyond just pressing a shutter. To me, it embodies the strength to control the decades of pain we, as a people, have endured and we must use our voices to tell our story through the art forms we see fit...The best time for us to begin sharing our story was yesterday and the next best time is today,” Alvardo says.
Alvardo’s body of work, ‘La Isla Del Encanto; Borikén,’ documents the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in his family’s town. He copes through the photographic medium by capturing the physical places, people, and memories that couldn’t be erased by the destruction of the disaster.His other work usually takes the shape of long-form stories, ranging from political, humanistic narratives like 'The Story of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' to 'Apple Study', a more metaphorical look into the value tied to outwardly appearances.
José A. Alvarado Jr. is currently based in New York and is available for assignments globally.
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By Laura Beltrán Villamizar and Kisha Ravi
Co-writers and Photo Editors
Laura Beltrán Villamizar is an independent curator, writer, and educator in the field of photography and visual arts.
She is the Director of Photography of Atmos Magazine, a platform at the intersection of climate change and social justice. Formerly, she was the Art Director and Photo Editor at NPR, working with the organization’s growing efforts to shape their enterprise visual journalism.
Laura is also the founder of Native – a non-profit platform dedicated to the promotion and development of visual journalists from under-represented regions and communities.
Before founding Native, she worked at the World Press Photo Foundation, where she led educational programs in Latin America and co-produced the yearly Joop Swart Masterclass. Laura has served on the jury for The Catchlight Fellowship (2018) and The Sinchi Photography Competition for Indigenous and Native Photographers (2017). She was also selected for the Alexia’s Foundation Seminar: “Latin America: Stories That Drive Change” (Miami, 2017).
Laura currently lives and works in Mexico City.
She was a photo editor at National Public Radio (NPR) in Washington, D.C. in 2020. She was also the former social media and research intern at Chennai Photo Biennale, a non-profit engaged in photographic arts and meaningful socio-cultural discussion. Kisha is currently part of Diversify Photo's new Up Next category: a list of up-and-coming photographers, selected from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants.