Non-Native New York recently visited Francisco Correa-Cordero in his spacious, sparse apartment that he shares with his girlfriend, also an artist. His studio is filled with sunlight, as well as carefully arranged curios that he’s collected while wandering the city’s neighborhoods during his photo excursions. He has several series of photographs he is working on, culled from walking around the streets of New York and picking out unusual moments or details from the everyday scenery.

The images that caught our attention document religious icons in stores, windows, and yards in his neighborhood in Bushwick. These details resonate with Francisco because they remind him of the scenery he grew up around in Tijuana, Mexico.


NNNY: Describe your experience moving to the United States.

Francisco: I had an aunt who used to live here in Carroll Gardens; she designs jewelry. My family and I always thought it would be a possibility for me to come here and live with her. But then she moved back to Mexico. I was getting ready to come here, I was applying for school, and I was going to live with her, but a few months before coming here, she moved back to Mexico. She told me, and I didn’t tell anyone. I got pretty nervous. I was already accepted to school and had a plan, so I decided to come anyway. I started looking for an apartment and found one in Bed-Stuy. It was pretty weird, as soon as I got off the airplane, I just had a phone number of the person I’d be living with. I just had one suitcase, my clothes and camera. I had no idea about the neighborhood or the person I’d be living with. I was very lucky, the family I rented a room from with were very nice. 

: What was the evolution of you becoming an artist?

Francisco: It’s difficult to say, because it’s still going on. I’m very competitive, and New York is very competitive, so I had to really get serious about it, or otherwise I wouldn’t make it.  I realized that I really had to commit to photography.

I’ve been a photographer since 2004. I started taking pictures in Mexico; I took a few classes in high school and decided to go to college and get serious about it. I came here to go to college; I spent two years at School of Visual Arts, and then switched to Hunter, and I’m still in school there. I’ve been in New York four years.

I started doing this series right when I had to leave SVA, and I was going through a lot of difficult things. The neighborhood reminded me of home, and there were all these religious images everywhere, but it was more than just that. Maybe I was trying to look for an answer. I was very attracted to these images and I felt I had to take pictures of it.

NNNY: Describe your studio practice.

Francisco: I use a medium format camera, a Mamiya 645. I also carry a 35 with me all the time.  I print my own photos myself; I go to a rental lab - My Own Color Lab - since the facilities at Hunter aren’t that good.

I’ve been struggling a bit lately. Usually I like to go out and take a train and go to the last stop, which is usually a place I’ve never been to. I’ll just walk around and take pictures. But at some point I got too comfortable with that. I’d come back with a bunch of rolls of film and process and print them. But lately I feel it’s not working, I have to do something different.

These pictures are around this neighborhood, when I first lived here. I’ve never experienced anything like Bushwick, so I thought it was a good opportunity to go take pictures. I try to be as discreet as possible. It’s hard with a medium format camera. I haven’t had any confrontation, but I am always nervous, I try to be as fast as I can.

There are some parts of living in this neighborhood that remind me of home, like the small street markets, the food stands. I grew up in Tijuana, near the border. It’s pretty crazy, everyone is worried about the conflict between the gangs, but I got a really good education there. I learned English really well because the programs are really good there.

I wasn’t raised Catholic; both my parents are atheists, and that was very unusual. I just didn’t know there was such a huge community of Mexican immigrants in Brooklyn, and such a religious presence, and that seemed strange. It’s comforting in a way, but also kind of weird because I’m not part of that.

NNNY: What successes and difficulties have you had as a foreign–born artist in New York?

Francisco: It was hard the first year. The SVA thing, I had to leave because I just couldn’t afford it. And because I’m an international student, I just don’t get as many opportunities. So I quit, and spent a few months working, and I got into Hunter, so that was such a relief.

Other than school, I think one of the hardest things was getting to know people for the first few years, because my English was not very good. I had no choice but to learn English really well. I’ve had to work harder, but I’m very competitive, so I always want to do better anyway.


NNNY: How has moving to the United States influenced your art?

Francisco: I think what has really influenced me is the people I’ve met here in New York. The friends that I’ve made, the teachers I’ve met, people I can talk to about my work and give me advice.


For more information on Francisco Correa-Cordero please visit his website:

© 2010 Non-Native New York

Selected Artists