With the exception of Puerto Rico, no where else is pride for this island more palpable than the way it is in distinct neighborhoods of New York. If you’re unaware as to who in such a large state population are of Puerto Rican descent, the distinguishable colors of their flag outside a home window, as a form of ornament in their car or even portrayed through their clothing, any of these details will let you know right away of their heritage and how proud they are of their culture.
My wife is of Puerto Rican descent and it’s by way of her family, friends and occasional visits to the island how I ultimately developed a deep interest and admiration towards two of the important elements that one would ever need to fully appreciate another culture - that being their people and their food, both of which were in absolute abundance in this years 116th Festival in East Harlem. This festival highlights all different aspects of El Barrio culture , including other cultural influences from Puerto Rico such as Dominican Republic, Mexico and South America. Consider the festivities a pre-celebration to the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade which takes place the second Sunday of June along 5th Ave.
Originally I had plans to attend the parade but when I caught wind of the existence of the festival prior to the big event, it sounded more photographically appealing.
The output of photographing festivities like this can become incredibly banal because there’s the notion that one doesn’t have to work hard for their photos since most attendees already expect to be photographed. For any street photographer being in a setting like this is absolute glory and I saw a lot of them sniping away from afar at their subjects. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with this technique but my intent at the outset was to enjoy and feel as immerse in the celebration as I could and most importantly to gain respect from the attendees which would have been difficult to do had I stood on the side lines with a 70-200mm lens like most people did. I would have been more of a lurker than a participator.
In general, the more people you meet, the smarter you become and the more confused as well because you realize how little you knew about them. I can’t say that I had the opportunity to know a lot about the people I randomly approached for their portraits but I can tell you that each and every one of them surprised me when they shook my hand after they glimpsed at the photo taken of them and that gratitude was enough for me to feel satisfied with what I was doing on a humid 85(F) degree weather. I jotted down emails for those that wished to have a digital copy of their portrait and for the rest, they were simply ecstatic to display their passion for a culture that I’ve come to cherish and I was extremely appreciative they allowed me to capture a part of it themselves.
To view the rest of the 116th Festival Portraits, I recommend you head over to the entire set on Flickr.