Luis Alberto Rodriguez on the subject of the body

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Former-dancer and now photographer Luis Alberto Rodriguez studies the movement of human form. Here, he reflects on the subject of the body in his work

Luis Alberto Rodriguez was born and raised in New York. His parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic not long before he was born, his father working as a cleaner in a restaurant, and his mother in a factory, settling in an area of the city where the crack epidemic was rife and a good education was hard to come by.

“I was relentless in my desire to fly away,” said Rodriguez — in an interview with British Journal of Photography in 2019 — and he did. Rodriguez worked as a professional dancer for 15 years, performing for the National Theatre in Germany. Then, with no formal training, he pursued a career in photography. In 2017, he won the Prix du public at Hyères International Festival of Photography and Fashion, and this year, he published his first photobook with Loose Joints, People of the Mud.

Rodriguez’s experience as a dancer manifests in his images, where the body is used sculpturally, often draped in fabric or objects, which contort around sinewy muscles and figures in motion. Below, in his own words, the photographer reflects on his depiction of the human form in his work.

The photo above depicts two brothers in a tight embrace. An unbreakable unit. The complexity in their juncture stems from their collaborative effort in not letting go of one another. The harsh shadow piercing diagonally across serves as a spine fortifying their skins together.

I am interested in the curious body. By curious, I do not mean from a mentally inquisitive standpoint. I am referring to a body whose intelligence is equipped with all the tools needed to organise itself in beautiful ways. A body that is always in transition and never settled.

I like to call it ‘subtle virtuosity’. No human gesture is neutral, and therefore I’ve always been invested in discovering body language — how we read it and what that says about human culture.

I worked as a professional dancer for 15 years. I trained before that for about 11. I grew up intricately examining my own body in relation to the instructions of the teacher and the mirror of my fellow classmates.

© Luis Alberto Rodriguez.

As a gay child, I was made aware that how I moved through the world was deemed unfit, and would possibly be problematic as I grew up. As a survival tactic, I withdrew into myself and proceeded to become very observant of the physicalities around me and the nuance in which bodies relate to one another. 

This has not changed. I never attended photography school. The body is not an external instrument. You cannot put it away when it is out of tune. It is the root of our being and it is what I have come to understand through many years dissecting my own.

In the complex times, which we are living in, my interest in connectedness with oneself, as well as with other bodies, becomes magnified. It’s a recurring theme in my work. I cannot totally disassociate from this current climate of chaos and how that affects the lens of anything I view.

With everything that is going on, I am happy if my work makes anyone pause.

Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.