Christian Rodriguez was born and raised in New York City’s Lower East Side, to immigrants of the Dominican Republic. At the age of twelve his sisters and himself were sent to live on the island with his grandmother and extended family. For three formative years he lived outside of the United States. This time away from home would peak his interest in the arts. Upon his return Christian began photographing. After four years of high school in the city he was ready to leave once more. Christian attended the Savannah College of Art and Design. Majoring in photography he quickly began studying Savannah, it’s streets, and it’s lights, the people, and friends. Among many life-changing experiences was the switch to analog methods. Christian graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in the spring of 2015. He has returned to New York City to continue his photographic career.
From Here and There. 2014-2015
This body of work deals with many intimate levels of life and family. The home life, the immigrant life, and the struggle of being an outsider. “From here and There” is a series that presents a Dominican family, part of it in New York City, part of it in Dominican Republic. From his mother and father, to scenes of the country where his heritage began. The images take us from a small New York apartment to vast landscapes with rolling hills. This body concentrates most on his mother and father. The life they have together and apart, in the city and in the country. Connections that aren’t lost because heritage keeps the family connected, here and there.
Hey Chris, tell us a little about your introduction to photography and how it is influencing you today?
I was first introduced to pictures sometime in high school when I joined a photo club because of this girl I liked. I really got a start when I was found out about photography for nonprofit. I joined a small class that met once a week and just sort of walked around the city and learned mostly technical skills. Most of my influences came from my education while at college.
You mentioned heritage in your statement, being a first generation American, what are the pros and cons?
When I visit my family in Dominican Republic and I spend time with them and friends who I would see every summer, the pros become very clear. My family comes from a pretty poor background the lack of education is something I always feel I was lucky to have. In New York these things are a problem but not like in some parts of Dominican Republic. A lot of times I get what I call Latin American guilt. As for cons, I always feel a certain disconnect with my family. Culturally we’re very different, so I always try to learn more about my heritage, our music, history.
I can see from the photographs that some of these are large format. What gear did you use and why?
Some of the images from a portion of the photographs made in DR are 8×10 positives. I went down there with the intention of making large format images but I also shot with a Mamiya 7II. As for the bigger stuff I had a Canham 8×10 with a Sinar 300mm lens. Three 8×10 film holders, a changing tent, and 40 sheets of Fuji Provia 100F. Most people down on the island were very weary of the 8×10, thought I was shooting video?
In your series, From here and There, you had to make a few trips from Savannah, GA to the Dominican Republic and also up to New York. What are the biggest differences between the United States and the Dominican Republic in your opinion?
Infrastructure. My family is from the city of Santiago, The smaller of the two cities on the island. Santiago is gorgeous, and the country is an extreme to life in Savannah. Poverty and homelessness are issues that the country still grapples with. On my last trip there, this past February, I noticed racism to be pretty extreme. Mostly toward Haitian immigrants. I’m sure you’ve heard about some of this on the news.
Do you have plans to travel back to the Dominican Republic?
Any chance I get to visit! Before starting this project, the last time I’d been down there was when I was 15 years old. 8 years without seeing my granny, aunts and uncles. People were born in my absence! Like I mentioned earlier as well I’m always trying to connect with that part of me and my family. I also plan on continuing the project there and here in New York. The whole thing seems to be taking on a cycle. My mom and dad were one of the first to immigrate here in the late 70’s. Recently my aunt and her son and husband received their residencies, I’d love to document that process. I see it as this sorta reflection of what occurred with my parents.
How is life in New York? I know you are familiar with those streets, what advice would you give a recent B.F.A. Photography graduate?
Growing up here has it’s pros and cons. Leaving Savannah to move back here was bitter sweet. I find that in this city you have to isolate yourself when you want to make art. A lot of your time is spent working for other people, and it can be chaotic. You have to be try and be focused and that can sometimes become difficult. Being fresh out of college I think is also part of the chaos. You feel pressure to know what you want to do and how to make money within an industry that’s constantly changing, highly completive, and mostly commercial. I guess my advice would be to have goals, and to grade those goals from simple to complex. Right now I have some simple goals, email people I want to work for and so on. Then I have more complex ones like publishing a book or being represented.
To view more of Christian’s work please visit his webiste.