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Spotlight: Christian Rodriguez Follows the Journey of "Leo"

By David Schonauer   Friday March 1, 2019


Christian Rodriquez was born in New York.

His mother and father came from the Dominican Republic, and Rodriguez spent most summers there with his grandparents. In high school, he attended a four-year after-school photographic residency program and went on to study at the Savannah College of Art and Design. While at SCAD, he decided to return to the Dominican Republic after an eight-year absence to work on a photo project about, he says, “family, immigration, and the Diaspora.”

That is when he met Leo, a young boy who had received a visa and would soon be immigrating to New York — though without his mother, whose visa wasn’t yet approved.

“With these thoughts and my family history I thought this could be an opportunity to document a universal process, one that is painful, scary, and extremely courageous,” says Rodriguez. The result is a series called simply “Leo,” which follows the boy’s journey to a new country and new home. An image from the project (below) was named a winner of the Latin American Fotografia 7 competition.

“It was made in Dominican Republic, just outside my grandmother’s home in Santiago,” says Rodriguez. “This was the moment Leo said goodbye to everyone. His mother was in tears all day. They were headed to the airport where she would say goodbye to him for the first time, not knowing the next time she would see him. I remember a quiet energy for the rest of my time during that trip. Mercedes, Leo's mother, would Facetime him everyday, sharing laughs and his experiences in the big new city.”

Rodriguez shot the scene and other images during the trip with a Mamiya 7 II and a Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, always using Kodak Portra 160 and 400 films. “I think most of the characteristics of the ‘look’ of the images came from the combination of light and film,” he says. “The light in the Caribbean is really a photographer’s dream.”

Today, Leo, his mother, and his father all live together on Long Island. Rodriguez continues to document their lives. “I try to visit as frequently as I can, trying to capture his growth and process,” he says.

Rodriguez came to photography via the cinema. “While in high school, I began working at an independent movie store in my neighborhood in New York City. Part of the job was watching movies, I soon became interested in the way images were framed,” he says. “I told my best friend about my new hobby and he quickly told me he was a part of an after-school photo program called NYC Salt.” He began his studies at SCAD in 2011.

His family history has played a large role in shaping his focus. He is currently working on a number of longterm projects in New York and the Dominican Republic, while taking commercial assignments from New York magazine, Runners World and other publications. In 2017 Rodriguez was selected to participate in The NewYork Times Portfolio Review.
 

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Dispatches from Latin America