celebrating puerto rican culture and community in early 80s new york
Photographer Arlene Gottfried has spent decades documenting one of the city’s most vibrant populations.
Communion, c. early 1980's
"From my window on New York City's Lower East Side I could look out and see the Puerto Rican culture I encountered over 30 years earlier, around the same time I began photographing. One night I heard a street vendor on the corner of Avenue C and East 3rd Street calling, 'bacalaitos and fireworks;' bacalaitos, a fried cod fish indigenous to Puerto Rico, and fireworks, for the Fourth of July weekend. This juxtaposition became etched in my mind — representative of an immigrant population on the streets of America."
This is how photographer Arlene Gottfried remembers her time in 80s New York in the artist statement for her exhibition Bacalaitos & Fireworks, which opened yesterday at Daniel Cooney Fine Art gallery in New York. The exhibition collects Gottfried's colorful, vibrant documentation of the rich community she's spent her own life within.
As a teenager, Gottfried lived in Crown Heights before relocating to Lower Manhattan as an adult. "The wave of Puerto Rican immigration to America began in the 1950s, with individuals seeking the promise of a better life. The incoming families moved into many different urban areas including the Brooklyn neighborhood where I grew up," her deeply personal statement continues. "I took to the streets with my friends and neighbors, where I learned to dance salsa and speak some Spanish, and when I picked up a camera my friends in the neighborhood became my subjects."
The exhibition spans not only decades — the 70s and 80s — but also boroughs; Gottfried photographed Puerto Rican enclaves in Brooklyn, the Lower East Side, and Spanish Harlem. Her images celebrate the uniqueness of their subjects, but simultaneously lend insight into how and where communities connect. No matter the neighborhood, Gottfried's lens captures the dynamic diversity that makes our city so special.
Text by Emily Manning
Images courtesy Daniel Cooney Fine Art