La Romana

color film, 2016 - ongoing

This is an ongoing street photography series of La Romana, a city in the Dominican Republic. When I started this project in 2016, I was using my camera as a tool to understand an unfamiliar place through the eyes of an outsider. In some ways, La Romana is very similar to New York. It’s loud, crowded, and there’s always traffic. However, when photographing, I was drawn to the aspects of the city that were different from what I was used to. The buildings are much lower to the ground, allowing the sunlight to hit the streets in a different way. The colors of the buildings are also very distinctive. I noticed lots of bright blues, yellows, and greens, and a lack of the greys, whites, and browns that are present in New York City skyscrapers.

It isn’t just the light and the architecture that makes La Romana feel so distinctive from New York. Visual culture on the street is arrestingly different. 2016 was an election year in the Dominican Republic. At the time, hundreds of political posters were dispersed throughout the city. Of these posters, many incorporated vibrant colors, such as neon greens and bright purples. Each one featured a straightforward photograph of a candidate, smiling frankly at the camera. I was struck by how direct and personal the political appeals were, with the full-face, un-retouched photos. The Dominican candidates didn’t seem so removed from the people on the street. In contrast, the Presidential posters from the 2016 US election had a highly designed, corporate feel. In the US, most of the political advertising we see is not on the street. It is on television, magazines, and newspapers, where everything has a Hollywood level of professionalism. This can make Americans feel removed from Presidential politics.

Now, as I return to La Romana annually, my goal is to document the ways in which street culture both changes and remains constant over time. The most noticeable difference between the photos shot in 2016 and those shot in 2017/2018 is the lack of political advertising in the latter years. In 2018, I began to notice other trends in visual advertising. I came across many Westernized depictions of modern technology, fashion, and media integrated in city life. I also noticed a change in my personal comfort level as a street photographer. My more recent photographs demonstrate a more direct relationship between subject and photographer. As I build on this project in the coming months and years, I will continue to observe how the presence or absence of political and cultural media impacts the visual landscape of a city while further developing my confidence in capturing spontaneous moments in this dynamic environment.