Barcelona is just
breaking the rules
JC Rodriguez MAR.23.18
We met with Raul Barcelona in the heart of downtown Miami at All Day, a cool hangout with great coffee, cool vibe and gourmet breakfast, and one of the first signs of gentrification to the commonly known "rough part of town." We couldn't help but notice the store signs painted on the walls with vibrant yet pealing colors. Some would consider this a neighborhood often shun by visitors and locals alike. As Miami becomes inundated with shiny high-rises and luxury brands, Raul relates more closely to areas like these, where things may be less shiny but definitely not less vibrant - places where signs promoting liquor stores, cigarettes and junk food. Create an environment where the odds are stacked against you. An environment he is all too familiar with growing up in a rough neighborhood in the Dominican Republic.
It’s his personal journey and defiance of norms that underscore how he uses his photography to put a positive take and a sense of pride to neighborhoods like Overtown, Little Havana, Little Haiti and Downtown. Refusing to do the typical shoot on the beach or agreeing to touch ups in his work, he aims to capture real beauty in a raw unabashed way.
An undeniable eighties and nineties vibe is woven throughout his photographs as well as his personal style. We talked about fashion, photography, politics and his upbringing. It was quickly evident why Raul, who rose from poverty, is becoming one of Miami's photographers to watch.
Did you ever think about having a nine to five job?
I played baseball until I was 22 years old. That was my life. I would bounce out of bed at five in the morning to go practice. I was raised by a single mom and she made sure I was busy with art classes or on the baseball field, or doing activities with the boys scouts. I grew up in a rough neighborhood, so I was always surrounded by the drug dealers and hustlers. They always respected me because I was the cool kid on the block that played sports. Today, I still very much have that hustler mentality but I was able to stay away from the negative stuff unlike many of my childhood friends.
Why do you think you didn't end up with the same fate?
I was smart enough to realize where that was heading. I don't judge people for having to do what they must to put food in their mouth and a roof over their head. I don't condone any of it, but I understand it when people are earning, at the time, five dollars an hour. I know what feeling desperate feels like. I understand how people end up doing what they are doing.
Why do you choose to shoot in these neighborhoods?
It drives me crazy seeing these corner stores with big red letters saying liquor store. You have to imagine a kid waking up everyday and goes outside, whether he likes it or not he's going to see those signs, beer, liquor, it influences indirectly. Kids in affluent neighborhoods don't see that. They wake up and birds are chirping, dogs are barking, and they have a whole different mindset growing up. Then you see the hustlers and you see people working hard and making nothing, it's this trap mentality. So I try to shine the light and the brightness of everything. Giving it a different perspective.
So how did you move forward?
I grew up in Dominican Republic but my Mom and I moved to Canada. She was working hard and didn't get on welfare. She thought if she did that, she'll never get out of that circle. She worked hard and was able to provide. She taught me to survive. At six, she showed me how to take the city bus to school. She taught me how to be a man at an early age. There were no cell phones back then, once I left the house I was gone. When I was thirteen years old she met my late step father and he taught me moral values and being a gentleman. Before my step father, if I had an issue with someone I didn't know how to vocalize, I'd just get into fights. That's how I grew up. At the same time I was in the gifted classes. So my step father would show me that I am smart and can do better. He lead by example.
So the move to Miami, how did that happen?
I moved to Miami after playing baseball in Dominican Republic and enrolled in FIU. I didn't want to waste time so I finished school in two and a half years. A friend of mine growing up in Canada was a hockey player for the Blackhawks and was down here to play the Panthers. I met up with him at the Delano and there was a girl there that I was having a conversation with. She asked me now that I'm in Miami, what do I want to do? I mentioned that I wanted to do something in sports. She mentioned that her boyfriend worked with a sports news personality in Miami and maybe she could see about me interviewing for a job. I'm not afraid to try things. I moved to Miami, not knowing a single person. I always think that if I try and fail, and I've had epic fails, I'll just end up in the same place I started. So I'm not afraid to try. She got me the interview. In the interview I straight up told them, I have no clue about journalism, but I know sports and I think I can thrive here. They said they liked my attitude and gave me a shot. From there I went to become a reporter, producer, and editor for NBC and Telemundo. I worked the World Cup, I worked the London Olympics and traveled to places I never thought I would. It was a great experience.
How did you transition to photography?
Everywhere I went I was always taking pictures. It was the way I would slow things down. I would take landscape and street shots. I knew that the job I was doing wasn't going to be forever. I wanted to transition to photography. I started by doing portraits. My cousin was wearing this cool Fila jacket and I asked him to do a photo shoot with me. So I took him to this old mall here in Miami and took shots and loved it. Anyone I would meet, I would ask them if they wanted to do a shoot. People would say yes but when it came time to meet up, they wouldn't follow through. Very few would. The ones that would, I was learning all along.
So how did you come up with the aesthetic?
There are a few rules that I follow when you are going to do a shoot with me. Number one, I don't shoot at the beach. That's what everyone else does. Two, I don't re-touch skins. I don't like the fake facade. I know I'm the little guy but society will have a different outlook at beauty if photographers start taking this stance. I wan't girls to be able to relate to my photography. All defects or whatever you want to call it, are beautiful to me. Being unique is beautiful to me. People are connecting to this. The most important thing when it comes to these pictures is when I meet the model, I get to know them for 20 minutes and I'm able to capture their personality.
What do you love about shooting in Miami?
Miami has so much to it. If you book a hotel in South Beach and never leave that area, you'll never know. As a local, I love going to Soho House at the beach and it's great but I like to spend my dollars in the local shops. I spread my wealth in businesses in Overtown and Little Havana. Sixty-six percent of what we spend in mom and pop shops stays in the community. Miami has a very rich culture. The art scene and the neighborhoods are rich of good people and beauty. I've surrounded myself with good people.
Where do you want to take this?
I don't know where this photography is going to lead. Right now I have the luxury to do my photography my way and I don't have to sacrifice my art. I don't depend on major companies to dictate where to take my vision. I hooked up with Airbnb to provide experiences to Miami visitors, but they let me do my thing. I don't have to trap myself as an artist right now. I try to shoot where people don't shoot often and keep doing my thing. I don't know where I'll be three months from now.
How would you describe your own personal style?
I go for comfort. Although, in Miami you have to step up your game a lot. When I leave the house, I dress like I'm going to transition to the night time. Maybe end up in a lounge somewhere. I love wearing button downs and jeans. The nineties has a large influence on me. I still wear Tommy Hilfiger. I'll go from this tapered look to baggy clothes. Even now I'm wearing this Nautica t-shirt and army cargo pants, but I could go to the East Lounge in Brickle and feel comfortable. This is one of those cities where anything could happen.