This morning was an emotional day for me. I am not all that certain why. Perhaps it was…

  1. the lack of sleep
  2. the fact that I have not touched my camera in 3 1/2 weeks
  3. the gloom of winter
  4. the reality that baby number two is almost here — and doubting if I will be the papi my father nunca fue
  5. or some other underlying issue that has yet to present itself to me but is profoundly connected to my past, or my present or my future

But there were obvious triggers. It began with a podcast with Brooke Shaden. Her imagery set off a series of emotional but perplexing arguments, within me. And the emotional decay continued with Gregory Crewdson. Whose photographic visions left me both stimulated and misplaced.

And then there was Edwin Pagan. But not the man or his imagery but his words. There is a cadence to his writing. A measure. A tempo. That fills you with his images of the Bronx – “with wood burning, flashing lights of the police cars, fire engines and orchestrated crime wave.”

And while his words so vividly paint a past that many, if not most, have forgot — it’s his photography and cinematography that forces the viewer to remember and re-connect.


LBTL: In your 35 years of being an artist how have you evolved as a Latino photographer?

Edwin Pagan Latin Horror FounderEP: I think that the most pronounced trait I’ve notice over the years I’ve been working as an artist – as a photographer and cinematographer – has been in making the transition from simply looking to actually seeing.

As an artist that is very important because looking at something is to acknowledge that it is there as a means of navigating within a space, to truly see it means you also have a contextual understanding of what you’re looking at and informs how you approach an item or idea and how it relates to other life conventions.

There is an expanded insight that one can only gain from actual life experiences. You can be born with an innate capacity to draw, paint pictures using words, or carry a musical note. But it also takes work to perfect the craft, as well as develop as distinct illustrative style, literary voice, or signature pitch. Or to create a striking tableau in a two-dimensional plane that can evoke dozens of emotions or illicit hundreds of interpretations such as in phototherapy, my chosen form of creative expression (more like I was chosen by it).

When I first picked up the camera after stumbling across a class in progress at the Hoe Avenue Boys and Girls Club (later renamed to “Joel E. Smilow Clubhouse“) at the age of 10, I mostly photographed the things that were accessible in my community: kids playing, community events, or recreational activities.

As I stayed focused on the craft, I slowly learned to see the beauty in the simple yet extremely complicated things around me: life itself. And I began to not just take pictures but also chronicle what was taking place around me while digesting what those moments meant beyond the fraction of a second it took to expose the film.

I ultimately learned that contemplating what I had just photographed before moving on, and why, was the true inspiration for why I was doing it in the first place. That notion was an epiphany that opened up my mind to the true creative process of being an artist, as well as a universe of possibilities that continue to provide inventive stimulation to this very day.

LBTL: You have been part of many organizations — like the Bronx Council on the Arts (BCA) — why do you find it necessary to give back so much of yourself, to the Latino community?

Edwin Pagan Latin Horror FounderEP: Having worked in various community-based organizations over the years providing technical assistance to other artists is a direct result of how I became acquainted with the arts in the first place.

My mother, who raised me as a single, head-of-household parent, had the foresight to enroll me as a member of the Hoe Avenue Boys & Girls Club. But that couldn’t have happened in a vacuum. First, someone had to have the progressive inclination that a facility of that kind was needed in the community. Then the administrators of the clubhouse had to staff the programs. Later, the people that worked there as peer counselors and mentors guided me as I learned both the technical and humanistic end of creating images.

So all these years later, it’s a natural part of my work as an artist to want to mentor young, emerging artists who either have creative potential or are looking for that bit of guidance and confirmation that can make a world of a difference. I know because that’s how I gained my entry into the arts and got started in the craft of photography.

I still remember with fondness my first creative mentor. His name is Ernesto Lozano and he taught the photography class at the Hoe Avenue clubhouse. If he hadn’t taken the time to teach me how to expose and develop the film, make the prints, and further challenged my creative sensibilities to create images during those early years with the added notion of having respect for me as person despite my age, I would not have come to be a photographer, and ultimately, a cinematographer.

And who knows where I might be today. So giving back to youth seeking the arts is a privilege that I take very seriously. As a father of two creative young men, I am constantly reminded of the enormous service that is provided by sharing artistic counsel and validation, and if I can help spark the imagination of a child looking to explore his/her world through the arts, I’m there. If I learned nothing else from my Hoe Avenue clubhouse mentors – the true superheroes of my youth – it’s to always pass it forward.

LBTL: You’re working a documentary — Bronx Is Burning — which chronicles the South Bronx. Why is this such an important project for you? And more importantly the South Bronx?

Edwin Pagan Latin Horror FounderEP: To me Bronx Burning ( is not just a filmmaker’s signature project, but also a very personal one because I lived through it. As a child, the smell of wood burning and the stroboscopic flashing lights of the police squad cars and fire department engines in the middle of the night were a common and ongoing theme. When the mind-numbing blare of the sirens become white noise in your existence, you know something isn’t quite right.

I consider the tragic incidents that transpired during those times to be one of the largest and longest-lasting orchestrated crime waves in U.S. history, and an open case that has not been solved. Deliberate arson for profit at the expense of everything else is not just a civic crime, it is also a crime against humanity in its simplest form, period. And that’s how I approach the topic in the documentary-in-progress.

Aside from that, it’s important to fully document this period because there are many fallacies and erroneous folklore that have been perpetuated in the media–whether unknowingly through lazy journalism or deliberate inherent racism–that only serve to further malign the people of the Bronx and entirely negate their heroic struggle to survive at a time when everyone had written them off, as well as cut them off.

It also often deals with the issue of the deliberate arson as very matter of fact and something in the past that should be left to evaporate into the ether of forgotten history for all time for the sake of today’s progress and mental saneness.


The story of the purposeful burning of the South Bronx is a great American story, a tragic one, as well as one of the worst cases of urban neglect in the country’s history. But it also a real world-class case study of urban renewal and how the spirit of a people can overcome untold suffering and despair.

Making documentaries is a time-consuming endeavor, especially when the scope and stakes to tell the story correctly is so critical. Add to that telling the part of the history that has been negated and whitewashed, and the pressure and responsibility to get it right becomes enormous. And, as you can imagine, raising the monies to tell a story a large sector of society doesn’t want to revisit, makes it harder still. But we’re moving forward on all those fronts, and the story will be told.

LBTL: Seis Del Sur is an exhibition that tells a story of a South Bronx that very few outside the community ever knew. So why is this exhibition important today?

Edwin Pagan Latin Horror FounderEP: The current exhibit is paramount in the process of the re-education and re-telling of the South Bronx’s true history, even if it only serves as a counterbalance to what’s already become so ingrained in the minds of those who aren’t from the region, both here in the U.S. and around the world.

But we think [Seis del Sur] that we have started a conversation that had not taken place in a long time, and one that seems to be steadily gaining a growing base of people who wish to be rightly informed, either because they also lived through it, had family members or friends who did and want to know more, or who simply wish to be on the correct side of the historical record.

Our goal is to not only get the conversation moving forward but to also realign the facts about the actual incidents that took place. Yes, there was poverty and crime and abandoned and deteriorating buildings and trash on the streets, but there were also functional families, working-class people, and individuals striving for a better self despite the environmental and socio-political conditions in their communities.

And the members of Los Seis are a perfect example. Each one of has gone on to accomplish much more than we were told we could ever achieve by a society who had turned its back on us. Who was right?

LBTL: As people walk away from the Seis Del Sur exhibition what do you want them to remember?

edwin paganEP: The strong will and dignity of the people of the South Bronx, who endured a tremendous stress and came out the other end of the fires and neglect with the ability to continue forward and are still here today, despite the political indifference that transpired during those turbulent years.

Even today as schools or community centers bring their students to see the exhibit at the Bronx Documentary Center, you can see the same wide-eyed wonder that existed in us during the time that the South Bronx suffered at the tail-end of a landlord’s greed and the lit match. As children our imaginations sparked a million questions, too.

The only difference was that the communities we lived in were in a tremendous and constant chaos and lacked the resources available in other regions of the City, or whose residents had the fiscal means to blunt or avoid the trauma. Our parents loved us the same and struggled to ensure a better future for us the best ways possible. But above all, they maintained a level of dignity that would have eluded other sectors of the City’s population if placed in those same dire circumstances.

And that is a story that is yet to be told and one that we have begun a dialogue on with this group show. Judging from the thousands who have traveled to view the exhibit, it’s a story that is waiting to be heard – and that is very motivating and inspiring sign that has us meeting and discussing how we can move this movement forward in interesting, innovative, and uncompromising ways.

Call To Action

Our past is a crucial ingredient to our present and perhaps our future. And as an artist it is significantly important that we not only accept this truth but make inquires of yourself. Since, it is these experiences that feed your imagery and allow them to deeply connect with the viewer.