Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography at Smithsonian American Art Museum, May 12 – August 6, 2017

“The American city underwent unprecedented transformations after World War II. As middle-class populations shifted to the suburbs and new highways cut through thriving neighborhoods, many cities began to experience economic and social disintegration, especially in Black, Latino, and working class communities. Down these Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography unites the work of ten artists who critically reflect on the state of urban America primarily between the 1960s and early 1980s, when government initiatives that sought to address the needs of cities in crisis sparked public debate. The title is drawn from Piri Thomas’s classic 1967 memoir Down these Mean Streets. Like Thomas, their work challenges perceptions of embattled cities and explores the human narratives that unfolded in communities across the United States.

This exhibition examines how Latino photographers, many of whom came of age in urban neighborhoods, frame their environment. They approach the street not as detached observers but as engaged participants by turning to portraiture, urbanscapes, serial photography, or unconventional manipulations of the photographic image. Many contribute to a long tradition of socially driven documentary photography. Others adopt conceptual strategies or use color photography to capture a less romantic image of the American city. Their work reexamines neighborhoods often viewed as places of social decline and affirms the strength of community in urban America.” — Introductory Wall Text

Manuel Acevedo. Altered Sites #7, 1998, printed 2016. Inkjet print, 40 3/8 × 59 7/8 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Manuel Acevedo. Hartford. Re-visions Project I, II and III, 2004, printed 2012. Inkjet prints, 24 x 45 inches. Museum purchase made possible by William W.W. Parker, the R.P. Whitty Company and the Cooperating Committee on Architecture

Oscar R. Castillo. East Los Angeles Doctor’s Hospital on Whittier Boulevard, 1970s, printed 2012. Inkjet print, 17 x 22 inches. Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

Oscar R. Castillo. Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe at Maravilla Housing Project, Mednik Avenue and Brooklyn Avenue, East Los Angeles, Early 1970s, printed 2012. Inkjet print, 17 x 22 inches. Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

Perla de Leon. Caribe Village, South Bronx, 1980. Gelatin silver print, 8 × 10 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Perla de Leon. My Playground, 1980. Gelatin silver print, 8 × 10 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Frank Espada. Cindy (Blake Avenue, East New York), 1963. Gelatin silver print, 8 3/8 × 5 1/2 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Frank Espada. Untitled (Three boys, Sheldon Cafe, Hartford, Connecticut), 1981. Gelatin silver print, 11 × 14 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Anthony Hernandez. Public Transit Areas, 1st and Pine Ave., Looking North, from the Long Beach Documentary Survey Project, 1980. Gelatin silver print, 16 x 20 inches. Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts

Anthony Hernandez. Public Transit Areas, Termino Ave. and Pacific Coast Highway, Looking North, from the Long Beach Documentary Survey Project, 1980. Gelatin silver print, 16 x 20 inches. Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts

Hiram Maristany. Hydrant: In the Air, 1963. Gelatin silver print,16 × 20 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Hiram Maristany. Children at Play, 1965, printed 2016. Gelatin silver print, 19 7/8 × 16 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Ruben Ochoa. What if walls created spaces?, 2007. Lenticular print mounted on aluminum composite. Overall: 48 × 96 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Ruben Ochoa. What if walls created spaces?, 2007. Lenticular print mounted on aluminum composite. Overall: 48 × 96 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

John M. Valadez. Brooklyn and Soto, from the East Los Angeles Urban Portrait Portfolio Ca., 1978, printed 2016. Inkjet print, 16 × 24 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

John M. Valadez. Couple Balam, from the East Los Angeles Urban Portrait Portfolio Ca., 1978, printed 2016. Inkjet print, 16 × 24 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Winston Vargas. Barbershop, Washington Heights, New York, 1961, printed 2016. Gelatin silver print, 13 3/4 × 17 7/8 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center, and through the Frank K. Ribelin Endowment

Winston Vargas. Child Playing, Washington Heights, New York, 1970, printed 2016. Gelatin silver print, 17 7/8 × 12 1/2 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center, and through the Frank K. Ribelin Endowment

Camilo José Vergara. 65 East 125th Street, Harlem, 1977. Inkjet print, 15 3/4 × 19 5/8 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Camilo José Vergara. 65 East 125th Street, Harlem, 1980. Inkjet print, 16 x 20 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Camilo José Vergara. 65 East 125th Street, Harlem, 2001. Inkjet print, 15 3/4 × 19 3/4 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Camilo José Vergara. 65 East 125th Street, Harlem, 2016. Inkjet print, 16 × 20 inches. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

The exhibition is organized by E. Carmen Ramos, curator of Latino art.

Images courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum.