Picturing Activism

Online Gallery of Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography

Photographer Frank Espada was also a respected activist who fought for improved living conditions in African American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods across New York City. The sharp contrasts that he witnessed inspired a series of informal portraits that emphasized the humanity of urban residents. His young subjects, who often pose in front of burnt-out buildings or stand on garbage-ridden streets, smile at the camera, play with complete abandon, or present a veneer of toughness. Espada’s photographs shift between conveying hope and social critique, as they capture the beauty and individuality of children growing up in harsh environments.