En Foco’s Archives, Pregones, and the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater present Boricua Lens: Sophie Rivera Portraits, a selection of portraits by Puerto Rican street photographer Sophie Rivera. The exhibition is an initiative of the Nueva Luz Study Center (NLSC) and is part of En Foco’s efforts to preserve the culture and legacy of diasporic lens-based artists. En Foco would like to thank the Estate and family of Sophie Rivera, for their support and for providing access to Rivera’s archives and materials.
October 13, 2023 – April 04, 2024
Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater
575 Walton Ave, Bronx, NY 10451
M-F 9 AM – 5 PM | By Appointment Only
Examining Sophie Rivera’s photos, both in En Foco’s permanent collection and the premier issue of Nueva Luz in 1985, one sees individuals looking directly at the camera. Their poses are simple and natural, but their eyes are deliberate in the intent to fully engage with the viewer. The clothing and hair hint at the person’s identity. From a mother and child seated on the subway to a young Puerto Rican man photographed with a dark background, each offers a bit of their story, devoid of the exaggerated stereotypes of the time.
Rivera outlines her approach in her artist statement:
“As an artist, Latino, and feminist, I trace my photographic development from my earliest fascination with photographic images through various transformations to its culmination in a complex amalgam of vision and culture. Various aspects of photojournalism, portraiture, street photography, news, still lifes, and abstract urban studies have been central to my development as an artist. Individually, or in various complex combinations these modalities have been suffused with my creative energy. I have attempted to integrate my cultural heritage into an artistic continuum.”
Sources that help to decipher the what, where, and why of Rivera’s portrait journey include the Intercambio essay Sophie Rivera: Portraits by Rocio Aranda-Alvarado, in Nueva Luz Vol. 11:2 (2006), and references in En Foco’s Critical Mass newsletter. For Sophie Rivera, the camera was a way to document moments, concepts, and people that held significance to her. The way Sophie Rivera approaches her subject with directness and a sense of authenticity. Facing the photographer’s lens, each subject holds the viewer’s gaze directly, imparting a bit of themselves to their audience. There is a sense of individuality and representation that may have been missing in artistic portraiture of the time. Many of the photos on view are taken of strangers that she invites to take part in the creation of portraits. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Sophie Rivera’s portraits highlight the under-represented communities of New York City. The same communities En Foco continues to serve.
The quest/search to learn more about Sophie Rivera’s photography began in January, with a visit to the space where Sophie’s full collection and archives are being kept/stored. After getting over the sheer volume of work, we concentrated on papers and ephemera. The things that paint a picture of an artist’s career outside of their body of work. With the recent launching of the Nueva Luz Study Center underway, access to Sophie Rivera’s archives inspired En Foco to expand current knowledge/information for the artist. Giving a fuller picture of Sophie’s professional and creative life.
En Foco is supported in part with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council, National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, The Mellon Foundation, BronxCare Health System, The Joy of Giving Something, Inc., New York Community Trust Mosaic Network & Fund, the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, Ford Foundation, The Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Jerome Foundation, and Aguado-Pavlick Arts Fund.
En Foco would like to thank the Estate and family of Sophie Rivera, for their support and for providing access to Rivera’s archives and materials.