Groups and collectives such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, Gang Starr and Souls of Mischief left indelible marks on the lexicon of popular music … without even trying to do so.
Soloists like Ansel Adams and Martha Cooper did that as photojournalists. Not many collectives and groups flourished as such. The photography outfit known as Los Seis Del Sur (The Six from the South) stands as a counterexample.
Comprised of Francisco Reyes Molina II, Ricky Flores, Joe Conzo, Jr., Ángel Franco, Edwin Pagán and David González, the group boasts more than 100 years of photojournalism experience. The six photographers, each of whom succeeded individually, received their greatest recognition documenting the South Bronx during the most turbulent era in its history.
“We were kids just learning photography. Photographing the South Bronx, El Barrio and what have you,” González told the crowd during a recent roundtable at The Loisaida Center when discussing the early work of Los Seis. “[We were] documenting the reality that we lived during that period. What we tried to do is tell the inside story of our community. The ones that would get overlooked by people who would come in and go looking for the dysfunction in our neighborhoods to present us at our lowest, at our worst. It was for them very dramatic photography but for us it was an incomplete picture.”
The roundtable held earlier this month on the Lower East Side of Manhattan focused on the expansive works of the “informal collective” currently on display in NYU’s King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center simply titled Barrios. The exhibition, which runs through March 2016, offers visitors a comprehensive look at the previously mentioned early works of these men along with more modern cuts. Attendees can see everything from Conzo’s documenting of hip-hop’s infant stages, González’s ‘religion nerd’ fixations and Franco’s seminal work in Cuba during the country’s Special Period in Time of Peace (Período especial).
When asked about Los Seis being historians or documentarians González, a veteran journalist with 25 years’ experience with The New York Times said, “We like taking pictures. We didn’t think about that we were forming an archive or documenting history. We just love taking pictures. Later on after I became a writer there came a moment, especially in a lot of the work that [Ángel] Franco and I have done together, we became very conscious of what we were doing as writers and photographers. We are creating a record in the newspaper of record that we’re here. That this is our life. This our community. And this is being told through the perspective of people who lived this experience. Not from someone who is learning it from somebody else.”
The group’s members understand their place in documenting moments in history, especially when it comes to the aforementioned hard-luck days in the Bronx when they set out with their cameras. And after four decades of covering the city’s northernmost borough, they are certainly comfortable with the mark they have made on its sociopolitical landscape.
The legacy of Los Seis Del Sur extends beyond the realm of social activism. Don’t try to pigeonhole them.
The sextet continues to write their own visual and print narratives. They took an even bigger step in that direction when Edwin Pagan created a Facebook page to announce a documentary titled Six Shooters. Filmmaker Vagabond will direct the movie, for release at an as-yet-unannounced date.
As González said in his reflections on his efforts and on those of his comrades.
What I want to do. And I think most of here I think are on the same page. I think we are making sure that people know that we were here. This was our world. This is what we did. This is what it sounded like. This is what it looked like. And if you were close enough you could probably imaging what some of these places smelled like. For me that’s what it’s become. It’s funny because, this is going to sound strange, but I miss those days. Those of us who grew up in that there are certain things about those days that we miss. It’s not about the buildings it’s about those human relationships that we had.
Daniel Rivera is a host and entertainment reporter from New York City. Many know Daniel as media jack of all trades who has an all-out hustle, immeasurable knowledge of pop culture and geeky charm. Follow him @DanielRiveraTV.