New York City in the late ’70s was a collection of villages with its downtown scene, midtown workers, and uptown elegance. It was also a city that was more integrated than ever before or ever would be again. All of the city’s humanity met in its streets with layered soundtracks of salsa, rock, disco, reggae, and soon hip-hop booming for all to groove to.
But, NYC was also a place of chaos and mayhem. Teetering on the brink of bankruptcy with rampant crime it was the city’s drug users, dealers, and pimps and prostitutes who ruled the streets of Manhattan.
The grittiness of the city was a beacon and a promise to many outsiders, those who didn’t quite fit into any mold, and a vibrant LGBTQ community became the nexus of an underworld of sex workers who liked to party.
From his taxi, Rodriguez begins to capture the moments whizzing by with his camera.
For a NYC cabbie, the hot spots to pick up fares were clubs like the Hellfire, Mineshaft, The Anvil, The Vault, and Show World.
Losing his first camera and lens in a classic ’70s New York stabbing and mugging, Rodriguez’s wounds healed and he armed himself with a new camera to document what he saw on the job: hookers getting off their shifts, transvestites and S&M partiers doin’ it in the back seat or somehow pulling off an unlikely costume change from bondage gear to emerge from the cab clean-cut in an oxford and khakis ready to face unwitting family and friends.
A humanist at heart, his photographs speak of the dignity of the city’s working class from all the boroughs and those struggling to get by.
He goes from Manhattan to the Bronx, from Queens to New Jersey, from Brooklyn to Staten Island, from Downtown to Uptown, from Meatpacking District to the East Village, and back to Midtown Manhattan. During his shifts as a “traveling flaneur” he also witness the darker sides of life on the street.
His routes are unpredictable, as are the encounters that become his motifs. The taxi driver’s gaze sees prostitutes waiting for customers , homeless people begging for a few cents, and the dreary facades of buildings that reach for the sky. Houses and cars fly by in the rearview and side mirrors; at the red light, a father pushes a stroller across the street. A peek into the back seat o n the cab reveals his passengers: depending on the time of day or night, they could be well-heeled Upper East Siders, partygoers out on the town, or families en route to Sunday Mass.
Like the 1976 film classic Taxi Driver, Rodriguez captures the pulsating life of New York City in his images. Both these works, the featured film and the photographs – also bear witness to the fascinating aura of taxi drivers, who, in turn, use their cars as silent observation posts. Rodriguez’s photographs convey the emotional complexity of the people he meets and serve as pinhole for the stories and insights jotted down in his diary.
For Rodriguez, who was once a self-described drug addict and criminal, photography saved his life.
The Economic Hardship Reporting Project provided funding to support Rodriguez’s work.
Taxi: Journey Through My Windows 1977-1987 is published by powerHouse Books and it’s on show until 31 July 2021 at Galerie Bene Taschen in Koln.
About the Author
Joseph Rodriguez was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He began studying photography at the School of Visual Arts and went on to receive an Associate of Applied Science degree at New York City Technical College. He worked in the graphic arts industry before deciding to pursue photography further.
In 1985 he graduated with a Photojournalism and Documentary diploma from the International Center of Photography in New York. He went on to work for Black Star photo agency, and print and online news organizations like Esquire, The Guardian, Mother Jones, National Geographic, New America Media, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Stern, and The Washington Post. He has received awards and grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Artists’ Fellowship, USC Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism, the Open Society Institute Justice Media Fellowship and Katrina Media Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography, and the Alicia Patterson Fellowship Fund for Investigative Journalism.
He has been awarded Pictures of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association and the University of Missouri, in 1990, 1992, 1996 and 2002. He is the author of Spanish Harlem, part of the “American Scene” series, published by the National Museum of American Art/ D.A.P., as well as East Side Stories: Gang Life in East Los Angeles, Juvenile, Flesh Life Sex in Mexico City, and Still Here: Stories After Katrina, published by powerHouse Books. Recent exhibitions include Galerie Bene Taschen, Cologne, Germany; Irene Carlson Gallery of Photography, University of La Verne, California; Third Floor Gallery, Cardiff, Wales, UK Institute for Public Knowledge, New York, NY; Moving Walls, Open Society Institute, New York, NY; and Cultural Memory Matters, 601 Art Space, New York, NY.
Joseph Rodriguez – Taxi: Journey Through My Windows 1977-1987
12 Jun – 31 Jul 2021
Galerie Bene Taschen