M. Rivera-Ortiz, Photography for Reflection

“What is palpable and distinctive about Rivera-Ortiz’ photographs is their profound humanity. The heart knows. And Rivera-Ortiz’ heart instructs him to recognize in a street corner of a remote village, the universal within the specific. He sculpts out of the landscape a look, a sky, a river, spices on the roadside, mother and child, a man missing an arm. Manuel Rivera-Ortiz makes it possible for us to journey with him and see what is not always readily apparent to the human eye. He goes beyond recording these simple truths. He has the courage to first experience them as his own, and then the will to bring them home to the rest of us—a compelling invitation to open up our own hearts.” Susana Tubert, executive producer & co-founder of TeatroStageFest (Manhattan), 2005

“I make images of the living for the living. I try to celebrate life. Iconic photographer Dorothea Lange, once said ‘I too have come to lend my voice to those least able to have a voice of their own.’ I agree”  MRO

Manuel Rivera-Ortiz (born December 23, 1968) is a social documentary photographer whose work follows in the tradition of “concerned photography”.

He photographs in less developed parts of the world and records with dignity the people who live in disadvantaged situations or poverty. Coming from a poor background in Puerto Rico his work reflects his origins.

“I’m more likely to come in after the newspapers and television cameras have long disappeared from the scene post-disaster”. MRO

“The irony about my photography is that making these pictures constantly reminds me of my past. But life continues without regard for my own struggles growing up. It is for this reason that today I make these pictures to lend the voice I have been given to those who like me then, are still living in poverty today.” MRO

“Showing poverty is such a large part of my work because another thing that I am finding is that for me personally, doing this work helps me in trying to come to grips with my own upbringing and all that occurred during that time. Basically, this work to me is a sort of time for reflection, a pseudo inventory of “this is your life,” a way to try to accept the concept of what was so inevitable.” MRO

“My question here is why do we humans keep doing this to each other or to ourselves? Why do we think so little about the role of humanity and of kindness? In my opinion, if we believe in a higher being, there is only one God and he/she is neither you nor me. The sooner we begin this process of healing as people, all people, the sooner we can begin to live a mutual life free from innuendo, hurt, judgment and need.” MRO

Nobody knows
How cold it grows
And nobody sees
How shaky my knees
Nobody cares
How steep my stairs
And nobody smiles
If I cross their stiles

“Manuel Rivera-Ortiz’s photographs of people living in poor villages in Turkey and Thailand, Bolivia and India don’t falsely romanticize their subjects’ poverty nor do they explicitly critique the political or economic systems that create such conditions. By focusing purely on the people who populate the poor global villages he visits, he captures the entire range of human emotion: mistrust, fear, curiosity, friendliness, happiness. Social critique may simmer below the surface of his work, but the primary message of Rivera-Ortíz’s images seems to be that hope and creativity are not mutually exclusive to poverty.” – Nick Stillman, editor, New York Foundation for the Arts, 2005 in Current

“Maybe by doing this work and putting my name on the front line, like a science project, will also afford me the opportunity to embarked into a very special opportunity to show that growing up poor doesn’t have to mean being unworthy or forgettable. This is a very important lesson for those who propagate such narrow minded universally accepted inaccuracies about poverty.” MRO


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