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Remembering Sophie Rivera Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

5 June 2021

Sophie Rivera, whose portraits of her Puerto Rican neighbors redefined the community, died late last month in the Bronx from a neurodegenerative disease. She was 82.

Born in Brooklyn in the summer of 1938, she was the youngest of five daughters. Her father was a mechanic and her mother a homemaker. After they separated when Rivera was 5 or 6, she went to St. Michael's Home, a Staten Island orphanage. She remained there through high school.

After studying ballet and working as a secretary, she became interested in photography while still in her twenties. She studied the craft while attending the New School for Social Research and the Art Students League. She also received a scholarship to the Aperion Photography Workshop.

Still in her early twenties, she met Martin Hurwitz on Orchard Beach. The couple moved into an apartment in Morningside Heights after a few years and he became a psychiatrist. It was not until her fifties that they married.

Her images focused on the decency of the ordinary people who inhabited the world.

But in that apartment, Rivera set up a studio and from the stoop she would stop people walking by to ask if they were Puerto Rican. If they were, she would invite them to have their portrait taken.

She made 4x4-foot prints of the 50 portraits for her 1978 series Nuyorican Portraits.

She was part of a group called En Foco (In Focus) that supports U.S.-based photographers of African, Asian, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander heritage. At the time, she and her fellow Latino photographers (who were mostly men) were documenting their community to combat popular but negative stereotypes.

In 1986 she photographed strangers who posed for her during the Halloween Day Parade in Greenwich Village, giving the portraits the title of the costumed characters rather than the persons themselves.

Besides her portraiture, she was a frequent street shooter drawn to the subway for many of her subjects like the Subway Painters.

In the 1980s she also worked on several series of self portraits including a Cataract Series, Rouge Et Noir/Bowl Studies and Self Portraits.

Among her other contributions, she ran a photo gallery from an apartment in Washington Heights, curated photography shows and wrote a number of essays, among which was Women: Where Are They in the History of Photography?

Whether she was shooting portraits of passers-by, street photography of strangers or even her self portraits, her images focused on the decency of the ordinary people who inhabited the world.

Rivera's photographs are in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, El Museo del Barrio and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among other institutions.

She is survived by her husband Dr. Hurwitz.

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