Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico
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Jack Delano first traveled to Puerto Rico in 1941 on assignment for the Farm Security Administration. He became so enamored with the island that he and his wife, Irene, returned in 1946 on a Guggenheim fellowship that would turn into a permanent move.
In his memoir, "Photographic Memories", he recalls his shock upon visiting the island for the first time: I was fascinated and disturbed by so much of what I saw. I had seen plenty of poverty in my travels in the Deep South, but never anything like this. But he refused to let that shock cloud his vision as a person or an artist, always affording his subjects the utmost respect. He noted that everywhere he traveled, "people...were cordial, hospitable, generous, kind and full of dignity and a sparkling sense of humor."
After moving there permanently, Delano amassed fifty years' worth of images of Puerto Rico, a visual love letter that shed light on the many facets of his adopted home: poverty to progress, urban sprawl to rich landscapes. As much as he loved Puerto Rico, it loved him back: he was considered a "Russian with the soul of a Boricua", and upon his death in 1997, the Puerto Rican flag was draped over his casket.
Jack Delano | See All Editions
Jack Delano, born Jacob Ovcharov in a small village in Ukraine (then Russian Empire) in 1914, made images that focused on the honesty and dignity of the Everyman. “To do justice to the subject has always been my main concern,” he wrote in his autobiography, a goal that made him a perfect fit for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photography program. Hired in 1940, Delano quickly became known for his striking compositions and sensitivity to his subjects. His wife Irene later said, "I just don't think there was a time that [Jack] worked for Farm Security that he just wasn't completely absorbed in it, and felt that we were performing a great mission." Like many of the FSA photographers—including Marion Post Wolcott and Dorothea Lange—Delano traveled the United States documenting Americana in all its forms.
As part of the FSA project, Delano traveled to Puerto Rico in 1941. He fell in love with the region and settled there permanently in 1946. He and his wife Irene worked in the Community Division of the Department of Public Education while living there, producing films (for many of which Delano composed the score). He passed away in Puerto Rico in 1997 at the age of 83.
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