Robinson Rivera is a Puerto Rican and Dominican self-taught artist, director of photography, and cinematographer. Via Rivera’s LinkedIn profile.
Robinson Rivera’s powerful visual storytelling art
Robinson Rivera is a Puerto Rican and Dominican self-taught artist, director of photography, and cinematographer. He was born in Puerto Rico and spent the first ten years of his life in the Dominican Republic. At a very young age, he was very immersed in both Puerto Rican and Dominican cultures. During his time in the Dominican Republic, he lived in a fishing town called Paraíso. In Puerto Rico, he grew up in Santurce, a place he considers as Puerto Rico’s current art hub.
“These are two neighboring islands. They’re sister islands. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t have chosen any other place to be born than the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico,” Rivera said. “They’re the most spectacular places that I’ve seen around the world. Not only because of their beautiful beaches and people, but because of the upbringing and values we’re given. Being born between these two islands is the base of my career and inspiration.”
To Rivera, there are few more beautiful places than the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. He strongly embraces his upbringing and multiculturalism as a strong base for the art that he produces. He’s proud of being Puerto Rican and Dominican, which shines through his photography and cinematography in the form of compelling visual storytelling that portrays a vivid Latin American identity.
His path to his photographic and cinematographic career is a unique one—he initially obtained a Bachelor of Science in Aviation from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, then joined the U.S. Army as a military policeman. Afterward, he worked for an agency creating travel videos. His job entailed traveling to countries around the world and generating content-based material.
He left the job after a few years of working for the travel agency to pursue his dream of cinematography. He subsequently returned to Puerto Rico, where he held various jobs such as assistant cameraperson and eventually landed as a director of photography. In that dream role, he began educating himself on the art of cinematography in order to learn how to select the most appropriate camera and lens. He’s become so disciplined that for the past four years, he’s committed himself to studying his artistic discipline for at least an hour every day.
The Power of Visual Storytelling
He found in cinematography and photography the power of telling visual stories through his disciplined studying and practice. He understood that his creations never die; each work lives on through its audience. But most importantly, he found a method through which he could express himself.
“Both cinematography and art try to express a vision to the public. It’s a vision, that in my case, is generated through the experiences you’ve had in life,” Rivera said. “I think that’s the purpose of art; showing the interpretations of people’s realities.”
Those interpretations of people’s realities are portrayed in a raw and human manner through Rivera’s lens—whether these depictions manifest through a publicity travel piece, a music video, a documentary, or a photograph. Rivera’s art immediately draws the viewer in by capturing the grandiosity of nature and people’s personalities. His portraits immediately interact with the viewer, the person staring back at them. This often evokes a feeling of happiness. These authentically human portrayals are the result of Rivera’s sensibility.
“I consider myself as a very sincere and secure person with those videos [and photographs]. That’s something that I always try to transfer into my cinematography,” Rivera said. “I was raised by women who shared with me an ability that I have: my sensibility. It’s something that stands out in some of my pieces.
Rivera’s Director of Photography reel is the best example of how his sensibility stands out in his pieces. It’s so beautiful it makes you want to cry.
Empowering Vulnerable Communities Through His Lens
With his photography, Rivera has this talent of portraying people throughout Latin America who somehow are similar but different simultaneously. They’re the same in the sense that they have similar lived experiences, but they’re different because of their facial features and expressions. After years of shooting portraits, he’s now able to determine these similarities and differences in the people he photographs, while also developing a connection with them.
“As a photographer, I try to look for similarities in all the places I go to. Before taking a portrait, I’m a fan of making the person feel comfortable with me,” Rivera said. “I want to understand what’s going on and be more present there. That’s a process I do before taking any photograph. I try to establish that connection. The more you’re shooting portraits, the more you’re going to find similarities. I try to look for those types of people in all these different countries and someday see how they connect.”
When viewing his photos from different countries in Latin America including Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Colombia, Guatemala and many more, a common theme emerges. Most of the people portrayed come from vulnerable populations. Rivera uses his sensibility and respect to portray them as empowered people.
“I think all the people that I’ve photographed in Latin America suffer from being s easy to relate [with them],” Rivera said. “I don’t come from a regular family where mom and dad are professionals. I also come from that s a relationship with that and with portraying that type of people because I come from there.”
Bad Bunny’s “El Apagón – Aquí Vive Gente (People Live Here)” Documentary
His dedication to portraying s “El Apagón – Aquí Vive Gente (People Live Here)” documentary, which was released on September 16th, 2022. It’s narrated by Puerto Rican journalist Bianca Graulau, who carried out the journalistic investigation that speaks about the current social and political issues that Puerto Rico faces.
The documentary showcases the gentrification created by wealthy developers, displacing locals from their homes by inflating the cost of living for locals while creating a “paradise” for foreigners. It exposes viewers to the constant, rolling blackouts and emphasizes the cruelty of developers barring locals from newly ordained “private” beaches
The documentary dives deep into the stories of the residents who are about to be displaced from Puerta de Tierra. As a cinematographer, Rivera provided the essential visuals necessary to convey Graulau’s journalistic work.
Bad Bunny’s “El Apagón – Aquí Vive Gente (People Live Here)” documentary. Rivera was the cinematographer for the documentary.
“El Apagón is a video in its own category. It’s a music video. It’s a documentary, but it’s also journalism. It was a new [visual] genre that I hadn’t experimented with before,” Rivera said. “The process for the context was done by Bianca and Kacho. They were the ones in charge of the direction of the project. I was in charge of the visual part: where we’d place Bianca, which angles to use so that the shots make sense and all the documentation of the people from Puerta de Tierra.”
Venturing into a new visual genre challenged Rivera. It also taught him that documentaries and journalism have more layers than mere aesthetics. He learned that it’s about documenting what’s going on, having an observant eye, and surrendering control of an image.
Learning a new process of visual storytelling led him to be more present, allowing him to connect to his subjects in new ways. As a local, he was able to easily relate with the people interviewed, making the documenting process easier.
“It was simply going to Puerta de Tierra and speaking with the locals. It was very simple. I think that being from here and being able to relate with them made it easier to document the true face of the Puerto Ricans. They’re real people,” Rivera said.
Rivera’s job in documenting the people of Puerta de Tierra has nurtured in him a sense of fulfillment. Knowing that he was part of a project that showed the world Puerto Rico’s raw reality was important to him. Since the documentary was released, he has encountered some of his subjects, who have communicated their pride that their message was artfully shared with such a vast audience. Boosted by Bad Bunny’s massive platform, the documentary has garnered more than 14 million views. This year, it was shortlisted in the category of Excellence in Music Video at Cannes.
This documentary serves as a portrayal of a vulnerable but empowered community, whose story has reached new audiences. The documentary is especially personal to Rivera because it’s an issue that’s directly impacting him.
“I’m from Santurce and they’re raising the [rent] prices there. You can’t find an [affordable] apartment in Santurce. I was forced to move out of my neighborhood to another neighborhood in Puerto Rico. Many of my friends are also victims of the same issue,” Rivera said. “Having the opportunity to work on a piece that’s directly impacting you and your circle is very important. That’s why it’s a piece I hold very close to my heart.”
The documentary continues Rivera’s art of telling powerful visual stories that convey a strong Latin American identity while empowering the fortitude of vulnerable communities.
“For me, it’s very important being Latino and speaking Spanish. It makes me want to share more [art], inspire more people, and empower other Latin Americans to try doing the same [thing],” Rivera said. “I want to work enough to get to the places where we’re not there yet. It’s very important to know where you come from, but most importantly knowing where you want to go.”
To learn more about Rivera’s art, follow him on Instagram at @rrobin_hood.
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