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.
- Quotes of Ortiz from rivera-ortiz.com
- I don’t need them to tell me what it feels like to be poor … I already know how this feels, how it smells and how it tastes! When I talk to them … I want them to tell me about their hopes and aspirations, about their dreams… about the road ahead and how they imagine it will shape up out in front of them to make the dreaming and hoping come true. I ask them about assistance, about the health, and about their families near or far.
- I'm more likely to come in after the newspapers and television cameras have long disappeared from the scene post-disaster. The people I gravitate to are neither rich nor popular. They do not have the power to boost or end careers at the flick of a pen; nor do they own fancy things or drive fancy cars. These people live in slums and muddle trough piles of waste and trash on their way home to a little shack, which they share with a throng of other family members. Outside the cacophony of worldwide charitable organizations, their struggles are rarely suitable topic for common everyday talk.
- Biographical profile
- There can never be too many of us doing this type of work … The work that we do is necessary beyond accolades or honors. In fact, to do it for accolades or honors alone is criminal. I am my brother’s keeper, may I always behave as such!
- Biographical profile
- 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.
- Biographical profile
Buffalo Rising interview (2007)
- "An Interview With Photographer Manuel Rivera-Ortiz" by Christa Glennie Seychew in Buffalo Rising (January 2007)
- When I am in India I gravitate to the poor and forgotten; in the fields I love photographing the workers who eek out a living and a little bit of food from the earth. All of this has everything to do with this area, as Western New York has many people working in the fields as migrant families.
- Life is pretty rough for the nearly 400 million people in India who still live on $2 USD or less a day-they are mostly what this show is about.
In America by comparison, the children of the poor may not have access to the latest Dolce & Gabbana or Armani suit, but they at least predominantly have shelter, even though it may not be a castle but it is a warm place to rest and recuperate. So many of the children I come across in such countries as India live and sleep with their families on the street covered by a tarp or a piece of plastic or cardboard. They cry themselves to sleep at night from hunger.
We are very lucky to be living in the U.S. and not there under similar conditions in a country like India, even if being poor here means living simply. If we as people can remember this much from seeing one of my shows, then we are already well on the way toward progress in my opinion.
- 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.
- 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.
- The amount of time it takes to provide is threefold for families whom have to make due with very little. … Children from poor households learn to have very low expectations of themselves and their future because they believe that the world around them doesn't expect much from them either. In India, children of the lower castes are taught still today that once poor always poor so they don't think to become doctors or lawyers because their last name may not be Gupta or whatever other typically higher caste name there may be in India.
- Even when someone from the lower financial caste in, say America, "makes it," then there is this other barrier of old money vs. new money, social status, respected family names vs. unsavory familial relations or even ethnic background that makes the entire journey of achievement suddenly turn sour and seemingly not have been worth the while.
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.
- In the US we can buy comfort or clean water as needed. In India they cannot even when they do have the money as the country right now is going through a terrible drought as they are in other places around the world such as Australia as I understand it. We are a bit spoiled here no matter how much money we have or don't have.
I really hope people will enjoy seeing "Manuel Rivera-Ortiz: India" there at El Museo. I really hope that those that do feel comfortable and free to contact me and share their stories, ideas or suggestions, do. I too do not ever pretend operate in a vacuum. This work is done on all of our behalf.
Quotes about Rivera-Ortiz
- Manuel Rivera-Ortiz's Cuba series, is like a cinema verité journey, through a landscape both accessible and mythic. His panoramas capture a connection to an environment that prods the senses. One feels enveloped by a familiar, primal place. It is this place which will hopefully anchor a vibrant social order, as it braces itself for the tremors gathering momentum on the horizon. The engaging photograph of two little girls holding each other, surrounded by lush vegetation, workers and family members speak to the continuity and bonds of love and vision of one’s own paradise.
- Frank Gimpaya, photographer and adjunct lecturer, Saint Peter's College, in a letter to En Foco when selecting Manuel Rivera-Ortiz for the En Foco Award in 2004
- 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
- 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
- Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Official Website (with image galleries)
- En Foco page
- Thoughts on Photography with Paul Giguere Interview with Manuel Rivera-Ortiz (23 July 2009)
- The Jeff Farias Show Interview with Manuel Rivera-Ortiz (15 September 2009)
- The Jeff Farias Show Interview with Manuel Rivera-Ortiz (15 June 2010)