Poetic Visions: George Malave and José Angel Figueroa’s Collaborative Project

Proposed book cover for Poetic Visions: Contemporary Latino Words & Images

With twenty-six photographers and poets plus six years of working closely together, photographer George Malave and poet and educator José Angel Figueroa are heading towards the culmination of their book project, Poetic Visions: Contemporary Latino Words and Images.

© George Malave, Pedro's Ghost, 2011.

The idea came after the passing of photographer Phil Dante (one of En Foco’s co-founders), and soon after, poet Pedro Pietri in 2004 – both whom departed this world without proper recognition for their works, unrecognized for their greatness.

It got George thinking, “what can we do to prevent such things from happening?”

We wanted Poetic Visions to pay tribute to their creative genius and lifelong commitment to preserving our Puerto Rican/Latino heritage.”

This is the worthy challenge for many artists, arts advocates, and organizations like En Foco.

As things are right now, we have to re-educate ourselves every generation so the work doesn’t become invisible. New generations need access to their own histories,” José Angel stated.

© Sophie Rivera, Linx, from the Double Identity series, 1994.

So the book project was born, exploring how creative thinkers experiment with words, imagery and metaphor via photography and poetry. When asked for details, José Angel explained that it is as if the book had a destiny of its own. “It is a tribute to the artists – of how they work within the communities, and the work reflects their integrity and vision.”

"Piraguero, San Juan, 1978" by Charles Biasiny-Rivera, is partnered with a poem by José Angel Figueroa, "The Jelly Bean Policy"

They consider the artists true collaborators of this project. They are not so much editors, as partners and are very clear about the book not being an anthology.

It was truly a collaborative, meeting individually and consulting with each contributor to make sure the vision of how they wanted their work presented, was honored and respected.”

Indeed, in reviewing the mockup for the book as they spoke,I had a sense of traveling through time and history with the artists. The poets and photographers were artfully matched, and their dedication and care for this project shined like the sun. The imagery and poems had a dialog amongst themselves, leading me along for the ride, evoking a deeply felt social, cultural and historical connection.

photo by Angel Franco
© Angel Franco, Dead, 46th Precinct series.

They didn’t shy away from negative topics (like the burning Bronx in the 70s, or women objectified by all the machismo the culture can, and at times still does carry), but instead reclaim and learn from it.  With artists as cultural historians, their commitment to social justice and appreciation for life is apparent.

Each poet paints a vivid image from a slice of life, juxtaposed with black and white photographs from a slice of history: migration, the Civil Rights movement, anti-war rallies, Puerto Rican studies, urban life and plight, multi-generational family life, world events, and landscapes.

Their goal now is to find a publisher for a 288-page coffee table book, “something of quality that represents our history elegantly,” José Angel states, “a book that stays in your face, not put away on a shelf to never again to be seen.” Because no one benefits from the invisibility of great talents.

© Ben Fernandez, Anti-Vietnam Demonstration, 1967

On Thursday, February 9th from 6:00-8:00pm, George and José Angel will present a selection of this project in Migratory Dreams: A Puerto Rican Journey, a forum at Hunter College’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College’s North Cafeteria, West Building, 3rd Floor, 68th Street @ Lexington Avenue, New York City.

The event is free and open to the public, and very easy to get to (#6 Train to Hunter College/68th Street).

Poetic Visions: Contemporary Latino Words and Images
The book will feature works by the following photographers and poets: Raymond Beltran, Humberto Cintrón, Phil Dante, Marisol Díaz, Martín Espada, Sandra María Esteves, Benedict Joseph Fernandez, María Teresa “Mariposa” Fernandez, José Angel Figueroa, Tamarinda Barry Figueroa, Angel Franco, Frank Gimpaya, Magdalena Gómez, Tato Laviera, George Malave, Jesús Papoleto Meléndez, Adál, Nancy Mercado, Myrna Nieves, Pedro Pietri, Charles Biasiny-Rivera, Etnaíris Rivera, Louis Reyes Rivera, Sophie Rivera, Piri Thomas.

Photographs by Frank Gimpaya (titled "Blinding Lights" and "Night Walk"), are partnered with poems by Myrna Nieves (titled "Lights" and "I Know You're Gone for Good")

George R. Malave was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He studied at the Germain School of Photography and the Educational Alliance under Dr. Al Freed (from 1968-72), and earned a bachelor of arts from Empire State/SUNY. Malave is currently working on a series of books projects covering his photographic output from the past 45 years of work.

José Angel Figueroa was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Poet, actor, playwright, literary editor, and a children’s literature specialist. Presently, he is a professor of American, Puerto Rican, and Latin American and Caribbean Literature at Boricua College in the Bronx.

© Marisol Díaz, Jane at Astor, 2004
© George Malave, Third Avenue El Hub at 149th Street, 1973.
© Roger Cabán, Summer Joys.
© George Malave, 12:23pm, World Trade Center, 2001.
© Phil Dante, Loving Embrace
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