Joseph Rodríguez: LAPD 1994

Published on January 15, 2021, 11:18 am
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In a year when millions of Americans poured into the streets demanding changes in police strategy, training and deployment, the Bronx Documentary Center (BDC) believes a crucial part of the conversation should be Joseph Rodríguez’s photo series and just-released book, LAPD 1994.

In response to concerns around CoViD-19 the Bronx Documentary Center has canceled all gallery hours until further notice. This exhibition will open online here on February 05, 2021.

The BDC’s exhibition with images and text from Rodríguez’s book gives us an up-close and personal look at the cops, victims, and violent perpetrators in working-class communities of Pico Union, Rampart, and South Central Los Angeles.

Though the photos were taken more than 25 years ago, they serve as markers illuminating the path to our current society, one beset by debates about policing, violence and incarceration. As Rubén Martínez writes in its introduction, Rodríguez’s body of work visually encompasses, “another moment that tore open the soul of America.”

The exhibition will be curated by Michael Kamber and Cynthia Rivera.

In the mid-nineties, the LAPD was in search of a public image makeover after the Rodney King uprisings. The City Charter was reformed by increasing civilian oversight of the LAPD, the militant police chief of the moment, Daryl Gates, was forced to resign and Willie Williams became the first African-American chief of the department.

As part of these efforts, the LAPD gave photographer Joseph Rodríguez unprecedented access to document the officers in the field for The New York Times, hoping to give the public an image of a “kinder, gentler cop”, as the headline put it. For weeks, he immersed himself in the daily workings of the 77th Street, Pacific and Rampart Divisions.

In 2020, the year of Black Lives Matter, a generation after these photos were taken, new uprisings demand reform yet again and the same questions about policing – what are they for, who do they serve, and who do they protect – shape the public discussion.

The photos in LAPD 1994 display the subjectivity of Joseph Rodríguez as much as that of the cops and the civilians, who are the victims and sometimes perpetrators of violence – he is not afraid to humanize the cops, but the images also show the darker side of both the officers and the people they are sworn to protect.

Captions, from top to bottom, left to right.

  • Pacific Division Officer Hoskins tries to pry open the door of a truck involved in an accident, that left the driver and passenger locked in the overturned vehicle.
  • Parts of Rampart Division uniform;
  • At an abandoned Westlake motel near Skid Row, de facto living quarters for dozens of people without homes, CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) Unit officers search for a murder suspect.
  • LAPD Rampart division officers feel the heat from all sides — from the mayor, their superiors and citizens like this man, assaulted by gang members, who complains about the lack of police protection.;
  • Pacific Division officers confront a man found squatting in an apartment building garage.


About the Photographer

Joseph Rodríguez was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He studied photography in the School of Visual Arts and in the Photojournalism and Documentary Photography Program at the International Center of Photography in New York City. His work was published in print and online news organizations like The Guardian, National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, Stern, and The Washington Post among others. He has received many grants and awards, including several Pictures of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association. He is the author of Spanish Harlem, 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. Recent exhibitions include Galerie Bene Taschen, Cologne, Germany; Irene Carlson Gallery of Photography, University of La Verne, California; Third Floor Gallery, Cardiff, Wales, UK; and Moving Walls, Open Society Institute, New York, NY.

About the book

LAPD 1994 by Joseph Rodríguez
Foreword by Lauren Lee White.
Introduction by Rubén Martínez
Hard cover 23 x 30,7 cm 160 pages, 79 color plates, 600 copies
Published by The Artist Edition in 2020

Bronx Documentary Center
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