Montage Quotidien is a five-decade overview of the pioneering photography of Máximo Colón that highlights a collection of everyday experiences and key historical moments captured by his salient camerawork. Colón’s artistic imagination as a photographer is informed by his personal history and his political consciousness shaped by his forced departure out of Puerto Rico and settling into Brooklyn, New York during the 1950s.
Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico in 1950, Colón migrated to Brooklyn, New York as a youngster with his family and was part of the Post-World War II Great Puerto Rican Migration, where close to a half-a-million island-born Boricuas relocated to the United States between 1950-1960. Colón, like other Boricuas, entered the United States as U.S. citizens and marked as colonial migrants, and were thus casted as racialized “minorities” prior to their arrival, due largely to Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the United States since 1898. “Operation Bootstrap,” an economic strategy first implemented in the 1940’s in the name of industrialization and agrarian reform, had the consequence of forcing many
agricultural and underemployed workers to migrate to various U.S. cities. Colón’s family settled in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he lived alongside African Americans who recently migrated from the segregated Jim Crow South. Two great migrations were thus fleeing poverty, pursuing better life opportunities, and encountered each other in various northern cities. Concurrent with these migratory relocations were the urban planning efforts spearheaded by Robert Moses, which concentrated segregated public housing in certain sections of New York. Compounded by white flight and ever-increasing racial segregation, Blacks and Puerto Ricans emerged as the majority residents and lived side-by-side in neighborhoods like Brownsville. Place, race, ethnicity, and social class became axiomatically synonymous; neighborhood zip codes influenced the everyday life chances and experiences of their inhabitants. Puerto Ricans and Blacks would share routine life struggles and joys, attend the same schools, shop in the same stores, play games in the same playgrounds, partake in worship activities together, and participate in similar cultural and social activities, notwithstanding the racial tensions between them. Their shared social proximity would serve as the foundation for their mutual political affinity and intersected cultural expressions and celebrations.
Colón’s decolonial liberation and social justice orientation was influenced by his immediate context and interconnected with social movements worldwide. Amidst the zeitgeist of the Civil Rights and Feminist movements for social equality, the CUNY student strikes for open admissions, the grassroots organizing of the Black Panther Party, the Puerto Rican Young Lords, and the militant Puerto Rican pro-independence group - El Comité MINP, Colón was influenced by and became involved in some of these radical Left movements. He would eventually sympathize and align with an array of social movements, all desiring to transform socioeconomic and political inequality. The manifold experiences of political and social disenfranchisement and economic marginalization would inspire Colón to undertake social documentary photography as a weapon to transcend and challenge the everyday stereotypes imposed upon aggrieved communities; he would use his photography as a way to exhibit their humanity, their political resistance, their love, and their acts of pleasure. Like many artists, his photography is an essential part of the effort to remedy and transform a multitude of social injustices.
Challenging romantic and formulaic “ghetto” representations that too often alienate communities of color, Colón, who was one of those “ghetto subjects,” has us confront abstract discussions of poverty and inequality through public cultural expressions and political performances where community members claim their right to the city, communal acts of worship in public space, artists proudly working on their craft, laborers toiling at their everyday responsibilities, and children expressing intimate moments with their caregivers. An engaged observer, Colón’s photographs weave together an alternative account of the past and present, and offer an understanding of how segregated communities congregated together amidst countless obstacles. Colón depicts hidden communities not as withdrawn, disinterested, or even one dimensional, but as active, complex thinkers and go-getters laboring tirelessly to foster community and social change.
Montage Quotidien represents a coda for Colón; having showcased his work worldwide at some of the most prestigious art institutions, he returns to Brooklyn, the Borough where it all started, to exhibit his final solo show and bid farewell to an illustrious and memorial photographic career.
Dr. Wilson Valentín-Escobar
Associate Professor of Sociology & American Studies