The striking photographs on Nemo Rodriguez’s Instagram encompass her own personal project, offering a look at humanity in very dark times.
Rodriguez, with a pen name, and not a single image of herself, gives an aura of mystery but mostly perseverance, proving the work stands for itself.
The New York photograph documentarian, who now resides in California, opened up to Kulture Hub, on why she does the amazing work she does.
Nemo Rodriguez getting into human rights and falling in love with the camera
Born in 1982, Rodriguez is a daughter of Chilean immigrants who escaped the dictatorship of their home country. Her parents jumped from one dictatorship, and then came to America, hyper-aware of the injustice here, something noticeable to her as a child.
“My political consciousness came from my family and when I was little,” she says.
Exposed to the political state of the world at such a young age, it’s no surprise that Rodriguez geared towards the humanities, add a camera to the equation and she would be unstoppable.
Her father being an amazing painter, the artistic gene was always in her. She came to realize she couldn’t actually paint like her dad, but once her uncle gifted her a camera at 8 years old, that’s when she fell in love with the craft.
In undergrad, she studied history and literature, minoring in photography. She became interested in the civil rights movements, getting the chance to interview civil rights leaders and activists. This sparked her decision to pursue human rights for her master’s degree, and that’s where she found the connection between human rights and photography.
“I’ve always wanted to be a photographer but didn’t know how to combine activism and photography, later I found out how,” she says.
During her masters she explored the Human Rights Watch and how they exposed the world to important issues through photography, this is where Rodriguez was able to see how instrumental photography was to human rights issues, and social justice organizing.
This is the time period where she also learned how problematic the process was, especially when white people entered spaces not meant for them to take photographs only meant for shock factor. Witnessing how certain people served as “gatekeepers of the art world” influenced how she went about her own work, never wanting to do the same.
Nemo Rodriguez’s work is heavily rooted in social justice
Rodriguez’s entire identity in being Latina has always been rooted in social justice. Throughout history, Latinx photographers have not been credited for their powerful work. She recommends the book written by Elizabeth Ferrer, Latinx Photography in the United States: A Visual History. The book showcases the incredible history of latinx photographers and their work.
Knowing that there were Latinx photographers before her makes her less alone, and more acknowledged for the work she does.
“To just say, okay, I do have predecessors here, and they were making beautiful photographs. And it’s just that they went unnoticed, and our society didn’t acknowledge them the way they do other artists for a long, long time.”Nemo Rodriguez
Rodriguez has always been involved in activism especially when she experienced police brutality first hand, her brother falling a victim to it in 2010. She considers herself lucky that her brother ended up being ok, especially compared to other situations where loved ones are lost.
When the Black Lives Matters protests happened after George Floyd’s death, Rodriguez knew she had to get out there and document it, especially the families affected. Her instagram, started in 2020, gives personal glimpses of those affected by the movement. Rodriguez’s key to her photographs is building a strong connection to those she photographs, putting humanity back into the art form.
“I usually talk with them, we’ve had this exchange, and it feels meaningful to me. And I think a lot of photographers are worried that it doesn’t necessarily make a good photo. But for me the camera is a tool to show and do this work. And to learn about other people, and our world.”
A choice to remain anonymous
Rodriguez’s choice to keep her work under a pen name came early, knowing she had to keep herself protected in order to continue doing her work.
At the very onset, she made her decision after police forces started tracking protesters. She cemented her decision once she started attending Trump rallies. Being alone as a woman, who was visibly different at these rallies, it was normal for her to feel scared especially when many were aggressive towards her.
“I started to be followed after the protest, I would be harassed during the protests. And they were the Proud Boys, and they were very dangerous. I had also taken photos of them, I have photos of all of them. And I know that that is kind of dangerous material to have.”Nemo Rodriguez
Despite the dangers, she chose to go to MAGA protests to document what was going on, and who the people were on the other side. While she specializes in taking photographs of beautiful pictures of humanity, the lack of humanity in other circumstances can be just as glaring in its obtrusive way.
Keeping Black creatives in mind
She believes it’s a great question on how photographers can keep Black creatives in mind especially when documenting the BLM movement. Rodriguez personally does not take any paid assignments or jobs when she documents protests, her photographs of humanity being her own personal project.
She also always makes sure to not be in the forefront when photographing, taking a less aggressive approach compared to other photographers. Her purpose is to serve the community, not for the glory.
“So I’ll do it for the community when it’s called on me to do that.”Nemo Rodriguez
Being very community-oriented, she gives the names of organizations she’s involved with that do phenomenal work to help the community out during hard times, especially during COVID, and get the youth involved.
Some of these organizations are; Anti Police Terrorist Project, Communities United Looking For Restorative Youth Justice, The Hood Squad, and the East Oakland Collective.
For Rodriguez, she just hopes to continue doing what she does best in taking photographs of humanity and honoring victims, especially the ones no longer with us, and their families.
“It’s the least that I can do, and sort of the biggest honor for me to be able to hear those stories and to hear about who all these people were. And they were incredible people, every one of them.”