Photographer José Alvarado Jr. Captures Authenticity in Untold Stories

A photograph taken by José Alvarado Jr. of a portrait of his young self (lower), alongside portraits of his brother Erik (middle) and aunt Giacinia (upper), on a couch amongst broken wood and glass in his grandmother Amparo’s home from the destruction of the Hurricane Maria in 2017.

José Alvarado Jr. is devoted to telling stories through photography, particularly those of marginalized groups. Alvarado showcased his portfolio and shared his experiences in photojournalism during an event organized by the Brotherhood and the Art Department on January 24.

“I think the real role that photographers play is to be a microphone and a vessel for people to share their stories… One of the main anchors for photography for me is that when you take a picture of someone, you’re basically telling them, without telling them, that they matter. The work that they’re doing matters because I took a picture of it, and I think it’s a thing so many people feel. Think about it, no one wants to feel unheard,” said Alvarado.

Based in New York City, Alvarado carries out most of his projects either in the city or his family’s village in Puerto Rico. In 2018, Alvarado was a photographer for Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional campaign. He emphasized the importance of capturing authenticity in politicians, despite their self-consciousness in front of the camera.

“A lot of the times when you’re photographing for politicians, what I learn is that they’re very self-aware, very aware where the camera is at all times… I wanted to practice that keeping of a distance but at the same time capturing intimate moments at that distance,” said Alvarado.

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, Alvarado started a project called “La Isla Del Encanto; Borikén” to document the destruction and honor the resilient Puerto Rican spirit. Alvarado complemented the portfolio with a poem written by his dad, which was memorable to F-STOP Magazine Co-Head Anushka Bhat ’22. 

“I loved when [Alvardo] spoke about his usage of complementary medias other than photography, such as poetry. As someone who isn’t a huge fan of writing accompanying pieces to my photos, I was inspired by his usage of text,” wrote Bhat in an email to The Phillipian

In addition to showcasing the photos he took, Alvarado also shared some personal influences behind his photography. Brotherhood council member Ayana Alemayehu ’21 appreciated the context that Alvarado provided for his photos.

“My favorite part of the talk was hearing the background alongside seeing the pictures. [The Brotherhood] as a council had already looked through José’s website, and had already seen the captions and public story of the photos in the presentation. However, hearing it from José himself added a new layer of personality, emotion and authenticity,” wrote Alemayehu in an email to The Phillipian.

According to Hector Membreno-Canales, Instructor in Art, Alvarado photographs his subjects regardless of their popularity and fame. Membreno-Canales believes that Alvarado’s commitment to storytelling makes him stand out as a photographer.

“[Alvarado] has a working-class firmness to his work. He can really commit to a story. He will identify a story very early, and he will just stick with it till he churns and churns and churns, and all of a sudden it’s butter. His uniqueness is his consistency, his ability to start, commit, and really finish a project,” said Membreno-Canales.

As a final piece of advice to aspiring photographers, Alvarado emphasized the importance of having passion for one’s work. He described the privilege of doing what he loves for a living.

“Working on personal projects that you love and want to work on is the most important thing… To anybody that wants to become a photographer, never forget how lucky you are because literally you’re paid to learn new things. It really is a privilege and never forget that,” said Alvarado.

Editor’s Note: Anushka Bhat is an Associate Copy Editor for The Phillipian.