Sophie Rivera, a photographer who gained acclaim making luminous portraits of Puerto Rican New Yorkers and different metropolis dwellers earlier than turning the digital camera on herself, died on May 22 within the Bronx. She was 82.
Her husband, Dr. Martin Hurwitz, a psychiatrist, mentioned the trigger was a neurodegenerative illness. She lived in Upper Manhattan and had been in a hospice facility within the Bronx.
Ms. Rivera, who was of Puerto Rican descent, started making portraits of her neighbors within the late 1970s, asking passers-by in entrance of her Morningside Heights condominium constructing in the event that they have been Puerto Rican. If they mentioned sure, she invited them to be photographed.
The pictures she made have been majestic four-by-four-foot prints of on a regular basis New Yorkers of all ages. They have been time-stamped by their hair types and clothes as residents of the 1970s and ’80s, however they have been made everlasting by their direct gazes, formal poses and the nimbus of gentle with which Ms. Rivera surrounded them.
Vivien Raynor of The New York Times likened these Nuyorican Portraits, as they have been identified, to the portraits of Édouard Manet; The Times’s Holland Cotter described them as incandescent.
Ms. Rivera was half of a gaggle of Puerto Rican photographers, principally males, who had set about documenting their group, searching for to wrest again their story from the broader society during which they have been typically stereotyped. It was a time when modern Latinx artists have been almost invisible in museums and galleries. Inspired by the social activism of the 1960s, the group fashioned a collective and nonprofit known as En Foco — in focus.
“What struck me was that Sophie was always right there, she was just part of that scene, one of the few women,” mentioned Elizabeth Ferrer, chief curator at BRIC, an arts group in Brooklyn and the writer of “Latinx Photography in the United States: A Visual History,” revealed this yr.
“The photo world in general was very machismo,” Ms. Ferrer added, in a cellphone interview. “Sophie was small and quiet, but she made her presence known. She was making street photography when New York was really at its nadir. The camera made her fearless. It gave her a mission and a purpose.”
In the wild West that was a lot of New York City within the 1970s, there weren’t many constructive pictures of Puerto Ricans. Movies and books sometimes relegated them to minor roles as drug sellers, addicts and hustlers. Ms. Rivera frightened about Puerto Ricans’ illustration, or lack of it, in American tradition, she advised Rocio Aranda-Alvarado, a former curator at El Museo del Barrio, the Manhattan museum dedicated to Hispanic artists.
“Sophie wanted to record her people with dignity and tenderness,” Ms. Aranda-Alvarado mentioned.
She was a continuing, prolific avenue photographer who captured the denizens of her personal neighborhood and past in lush pictures. (She was significantly drawn to the subway.) Ms. Ferrer likened them to these of Benedict J. Fernandez, a Puerto Rican-Italian photographer who died in March. Yet this work of Ms. Rivera’s is her least identified.
A portrait by Ms. Rivera from 1979, half of her Nuyorican sequence. Credit…Sophie Rivera
Charles Biasiny-Rivera, a co-founder of En Foco, mentioned in an interview: “She was a very independent soul, and she had her own way of seeing things and giving some order to it. Her series of frontal portraits were stupendous.”
He added, drawing a parallel to Richard Avedon: “Her photography was not in any kind of mode, though Avedon was also beginning to make portraits in a similar manner. It was simply a sort of facing what was before you. Her images didn’t play tricks.”
Ms. Rivera’s pictures are within the everlasting collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, El Museo del Barrio and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, amongst different establishments.
Her work was daring and welcoming, however in individual Ms. Rivera was shy and reserved, a slight lady who typically wore darkish glasses. (She had imaginative and prescient difficulties later in life, her husband mentioned, however early on she made a behavior of sporting sun shades to maintain males from hitting on her.)
“She had no small talk,” mentioned Susana Torruella Leval, director emerita of El Museo del Barrio. “If I tried to pry a little bit — ‘Is this because you felt marginalized?’ — she would clam up. There is an empathy in her work. I think she knew what poverty was. I think she knew what suffering was. I don’t know the nature of it because she didn’t let me in.”
Sophie Rivera was born on June 17, 1938, in Brooklyn, the youngest of 5 daughters. Her father, Frank, was a mechanic; her mom, Sarah, was a homemaker. Her mother and father separated when she was 5 or 6, and he or she was despatched to St. Michael’s Home, an orphanage on Staten Island, the place she remained via highschool. She studied ballet privately and labored as a secretary earlier than turning to images in her 20s, taking courses at the New School and the Art Students League.
Dr. Hurwitz and Ms. Rivera met on Orchard Beach within the Bronx in 1961 and moved into their condominium in Morningside Heights a couple of years later; they married in 1990. Ms. Rivera arrange her studio within the condominium, and it was from the constructing’s stoop that she discovered the themes for her Nuyorican sequence.
“She could choose one person out of a hundred and make a connection,” mentioned Dr. Hurwitz, who’s her solely quick survivor. “She could connect with anyone.”
She was additionally, he mentioned, an ardent feminist, whose earliest work included essays and photojournalism for feminist magazines. In June 1984, she marched with a whole lot of ladies in entrance of the Museum of Modern Art, protesting a dearth of work there by feminine artists; earlier that yr she wrote an article criticizing artwork historical past books for ignoring feminine photographers.
Ms. Rivera turned the digital camera on herself within the late 1980s, photographing her bare physique and, in one other sequence, her bodily wastes in a bathroom bowl, disconcertingly rendered into stunning, summary shapes. This was the work Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and her co-curators selected for “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985,” successful exhibition of Latina artists first proven at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2017 and at the Brooklyn Museum the next yr.
Ms. Rivera was a continuing, prolific avenue photographer. She was significantly drawn to the subway and took many portraits there, like this undated one.Credit…Sophie RiveraShe was additionally an ardent feminist. It will need to have amused her to this gentleman along with his sandwich-board plea for “husband liberation.”Credit…Sophie Rivera
“Everything about Sophie Rivera’s work is relevant for today,” mentioned Ms. Fajardo-Hill. “She was an artist thinking about the body, about love, about representation and self-representation and what that means for a Latina — and a woman.”
For a time Ms. Rivera had her personal gallery, which she ran out of an condominium in Washington Heights.
“She’s best known for her portraits, but she is also the great unknown street photographer,” mentioned Ms. Ferrer, of BRIC. “I think that’s part of her power — wanting to capture everyday working people and using photography to reveal their humanity.”