In Focus with George Rodriguez

by Lizette Carrasco, VPAM Student Tutor

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Left: George Rodriguez, Los Angeles, 1992. Right: George Rodriguez, Eazy-E, Burbank, 1990. Copyright George Rodriguez.

In October 2019, the Vincent Price Art Museum opened George Rodriguez: Double Vision, an exhibition curated by Josh Kun, Professor of Communication and Journalism and Chair in Cross-Cultural Communication in the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California, encompassing forty years of photography in the artist’s first career retrospective. The double vision imagery includes the Chicano Civil Rights movement, Hollywood celebrities, everyday life in Los Angeles, as well as music, nightlife, and sports. 

Rodriguez picked up his first camera in 1954 while he attended Fremont High School in South Los Angeles. He learned how to compose his photographs by looking at the work of LIFE Magazine photographers. Rodriguez began taking photos because a friend referred him to the photography class. To graduate high school, Rodriguez had to create a photobook. His interest peaked when he entered an image of two flying seagulls at MacArthur Park in the Kodak National High School Photographic Awards and won the contest. He received 100 dollars, and Kodak used his photograph to promote the contest along with his name to encourage others stating that ‘you can take pictures like this George Rodriguez’ (A Picture of George! George Rodriguez: An American Photographer, 6:15-55:25).

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Left: George Rodriguez, Fernando Valenzuela, Dodger Stadium, 1981. Right: George Rodriguez, Rubén Navarro, “The Maravilla Kid,” The Forum, 1968. Copyright George Rodriguez.

 

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Jim and Van Morrison, Whiskey a Go Go, West Hollywood, 1966. Copyright George Rodriguez.

Rodriguez began working for Columbia Pictures in 1968, managing a photo lab. During his lunch breaks, he would go down to the Whiskey a Go-Go and take pictures of the musicians. Rodriguez photographed Jim Morrison, Van Morrison, BB King, and the hip-hop group N.W.A. During his time photographing the music industry, many of Rodriguez’s photographs appeared on album covers. He shot covers for Johnny Rivers, Buffalo Springfield, Thalia, and The Doors, among many other artists. As a photographer, he took into account composition, lighting, subject matter, and angles. 

 

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George Rodriguez, Chicano Moratorium, Boyle Heights, 1970. Copyright George Rodriguez. “I went up into a hotel and shot Whittier Boulevard looking down from the roof.”
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Left: George Rodriguez, Lincoln Heights, 1969. Copyright George Rodriguez. “This was at Fiesta de los Barrios. The women of the Brown Berets called themselves Las Adelitas.” Right: George Rodriguez, Cesar Chavez, Delano, 1969. “This I have been told is the iconic photo of Cesar. […] He was very humble and so soft-spoken. he reminded me a lot of my own family, of my uncles, very serious and very quiet.” Copyright George Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’s documentation of the Chicano Moratorium and the United Farm Workers strike helped preserve the history of the people before us. Rodriguez photographed these social movements with integrity and showed viewers an inside look at causes that were being projected negatively. In the documentary, A Picture of George! George Rodriguez: An American Photographer, Rodriguez mentions that his favorite photograph is the portrait he took of Cesar Chavez with the poster that reads “Kennedy” in the background. He also adds how charismatic Chavez was. Through photography of the Chicano Moratorium, Rodriguez showed the solidarity between the Latino and African American communities in protesting against sending young Chicano men to the Vietnam war to die in disproportionate numbers. He also showed the multiracial solidarity during the United Farm Workers movement which aimed to improve wages and working conditions.

 

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Rodriguez often documented agricultural workers’ protests in the inland town of Delano, Calif. This photo was taken in 1969. Copyright George Rodriguez.

 

Overall, George Rodriguez: Double Vision displayed the photographic versatility of the Los Angeles photographer. He took photographs of what he felt were important moments during his career. These photographs immortalize a part of cultural history, such as the Chicano Movement, United Farm Workers, and even local sports icons Fernando “Fernandomania” Valenzuela and Rubén “The Maravilla Kid” Navarro. This exhibition encompassed the impact that photography had on George Rodriguez’s life and how his passion to keep photographing the world allowed him to display forty years of his work at the Vincent Price Art Museum. 

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Cesar Chavez and George Rodriguez,
Delano, California, 1969. Copyright George Rodriguez.

 

Learn more about George Rodriguez: Double Vision here.

 

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