About the Digital Collection
Frank Espada (b. 1930) began photographing Puerto Rican immigrants in the U.S. in the late 1950s. From 1979 to 1981, with support from a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, he focused his creative energies on documenting Puerto Rican communities and their struggle to survive and thrive in America. In his photographic survey of the Puerto Rican diaspora, Espada visited over thirty four communities across the United States and its territories. Photographs from this project have been exhibited across the country and eventually led to the publication of The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Themes in the Survival of a People in 2006.
The Frank Espada Photographs digital collection provides online access to a small portion (25 photographs) of Espada's larger The Puerto Rican Diaspora project, specifically focusing on rural migration in Hawaii and Pennsylvania, and urban migration in New York City and Hartford, Connecticut. The remainder of the photographs and papers that preserve the stories of the communities he visited are available for research and study in the Frank Espada Photographs and Papers, 1946-2010, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. This archival collection of over 16,000 items joins the Library’s Archive of Documentary Arts’ growing collections of Latin American and Caribbean materials, including the work of photographers James Karales and Mel Rosenthal, both of whom documented Puerto Rican communities in New York City during the 1960s and 1980s.
This digital collection comprises selected materials from the following archival collection at David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library:
Frank Espada photographs and papers 1946-2010
Collection #RL.00367 | 56.2 Linear Feet; 76 boxes; 2 oversize folders
Frank Espada was a political activist and documentary photographer of Puerto Rican extraction based in New York and California. Collection consists of thousands of black-and-white photographs and negatives, as well as supporting papers and recordings, chiefly dating from the mid-1960s through 2000, relating to Espada's lifelong work documenting the Puerto Rican diaspora, his involvement in civil rights movements, his project work on indigenous Chamorro communities in Micronesia, and his documentary work on HIV/AIDS outreach in San Francisco. The Puerto Rican Diaspora materials include over 150 oral history recordings. The civil rights images document voter registration drives and school desegregation rallies in New York City, 1964-1970, as well as discriminatory housing and anti-poverty movements, primarily in California. A large series of professional papers provides supporting documentation of his life and work as a photographer, activist, community organizer, and teacher, and includes files related to research and publications, exhibits, teaching, and publicity. The earliest dated item is found in this series, and belongs to an essay Espada wrote in 1946, "What democracy means to me." Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.