Ruben Natal San Miguel: Puerto Rico : Paradise Ruined and its Aftermath
Today, I am handing the post over to photographer Ruben Natal San Miguel. Born in Puerto Rico, he’s been living in New York’s Harlem for many years, capturing the streets with his stealth focus and quick wit. As a Puerto Rican native with family on the island, the devastation in after Hurricane Maria has been at the forefront of his prayers — he recently returned to the island and returned with these images and thoughts:
Puerto Rico: Paradise Ruined, Its Aftermath
This photographic documentation was made between December 9-26, 2018. The idea was to investigate, document and make an assessment of how the Island of Puerto Rico conditions and effort was at almost four months after the disaster of hurricane Maria. This is the first phase of the project with plans of 4 more visits to the Island ending near 8/31/18.
Puerto Rico is populated by a people long tested by adversities, both natural and manmade. The people have shown themselves to be resilient. Resilient in the capacity to resist the permanent erosion of a cultural heritage. And, resilient as defined by a strong, cultural resistance to rolling over and giving-up.Puerto Rican culture endures in those individuals who have chosen to leave the island and make their homes, build their community anew, on the US mainland. The island’s ongoing role in sustaining a people’s heritage is more tentative.
Already strained to the breaking point by financial woes, population exodus, widespread addiction (predatory gambling, alcohol, opioids), and two natural disasters, the island of Puerto Rico is entering a pivotal time in its recent history. Because lives are rebuilt with more than just brick and mortar, the rebuilding of Puerto Rico will most certainly affect its people (everywhere) on a cultural level, but how and to what extent?
I believe in the power of systematic documentation of events and field conditions. Curiosity when paired with careful observation can lead to a story or, at least, dialogue.
My objectives for the newest phase of this series about Puerto Rico:
Document the revival of the island where I was born and where my family still lives
Chronicle examples of community resolve to rise from the ruins
Record a people’s determination to restore strength and pride in culture
With my camera, I will bear witness to a population determined to come together, to forge inventive means of survival, and to create new conceptions of leadership. I will document in images a people’s profound desire to reverse an economic tailspin now endangering a cultural heritage.
I resolve to also chronicle those instances when people appear at a loss to inspire the sense of hope needed to spur renewal and to preserve their culture.
Puerto Rico‘s resources and opportunities for cultural expression, creative production, and research have been severely limited to-date. Documentation at this critical juncture in the island’s history, when the survival of its people and their cultural heritage is threatened, is needed. Puerto Ricans’ stories need to be told. Due to my deeply felt connection to the island and its people, I am feel especially well positioned and connected to help tell these stories.
By telling the stories of Puerto Ricans through images, I hope to inspire and educate those living outside of the island: individuals with limited exposure to the social and cultural assets of the island.
Bearing witness will hopefully lead to increased comprehension and support, in the forms of both direct assistance and emotional support.
Over the course of four trips to Puerto Rico, I will document life in the aftermath of the hurricanes through considered and hopefully arresting environmental portraits of the people, leaders, communities, places, and organizations of Puerto Rico.
I will walk the streets recording the devastating effects of economic austerity and any resulting cultural loss.
But, my focus will specifically be on capturing examples of the island’s resilient fighters.
As is typical of my style of documentary portraiture, the work will tell a story of hope, even as I unflinchingly look at the aftermath of natural and manmade devastation in this particular location and documenting this ongoing humanitary catastrophic crisis . – Ruben Natal San Miguel
Ruben Natal-San Miguel, American, is an architect, self-taught photographer, curator, writer, art collector and consultant specializing in the art of fine emerging photography. His stature in the photo world has earned him awards, features in major media, countless exhibitions and collaborations with photo icons such as Magnum Photographer Susan Meiselas. Gallery shows include: Asya Geisberg, SoHo Photo, Rush Arts, Finch & Ada, Kris Graves Projects, Fuchs Projects, WhiteBox Gallery, Station Independent Projects Gallery and others. His work has been featured in numerous institutions: The New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, El Museo Del Barrio, Griffin Museum of Photography, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, African American Museum of Philadelphia, The Makeshift Museum in Los Angeles, University of Washington and Phillips Auction House. International art fair representation includes: Outsider Art Fair, SCOPE, PULSE, Art Chicago, Zona Maco, Lima Photo and Photo LA. His photography has been published in a long list of publications, highlights: New York Magazine, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Time OUT, Aperture, Daily News, OUT, American Photo, ARTFORUM, Musee, ARTnet and The New Yorker. In 2016 Ruben’s Marcy’s Playground was selected for both the Billboard Collective curated by Mona Kuhn and a new ap and website for Apple. His photographs are in the permanent collection of El Museo Del Barrio in NYC.
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