Tony Rocco (USA/Colombia)

October 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Doña RosemaryArchival Pigment Print: 30 in x 20 in76.2 cm x 50.8 cm, 2012. 

 Getting to spend several months in Colombia each year for the past 10 years has enabled me to see and photograph some of the positive changes that have taken place in my mother’s birthplace. Gone are the times when it was impossible to travel within Colombia for fear of violence. Colombians at last are getting what they have always wanted: to truly enjoy their country, to live their daily lives without fear. In my portraits I attempt to capture the elements of nobility, hope, and strength of character manifested by Colombians, qualities that have enabled them to persevere and overcome many hardships.

AR-L: What can you tell our readers about your work as a photographer?
TR: I mostly photograph people. Since I began taking photographs as a teenager I have tried to capture the essence of people in my images.  I try to use the camera as a way to investigate the individuals in my photographs and better understand who they are and where they come from.  About ten years ago I began training my focus primarily on exploring my mother’s native Colombia and this work continues to drive me to learn more about Colombia and its people.
AR-L: How and when did you start your international community project with youth and photography?

TR: About 12 years ago I started a Photography Coop in Philadelphia with a group of friends called The Light Room (, which is devoted to furthering the knowledge, appreciation, and understanding of the photographic arts.  One of the things we all agreed was important was to pass on our knowledge and love of photography to another generation.

We started by recruiting a group of my 7th grade students and continued working with them until they graduated high school.This is a big difference between my program and many others in that we don’t start over with new kids every year.  We keep the same kids and continue building upon their skills, making them better and better.  I am constantly told that some of my student’s work rivals or surpasses that of college photography students.

I spend all my summers and most holidays in Colombia working on my personal photo projects and in 2005 was introduced to a special group of kids and their families from Cali called Aguacero.
Our first year I taught them with plastic disposable cameras and we had an exhibition at a downtown gallery.  The next year I brought them digital cameras (thanks to Latino Partnership) and we had another exhibition in Cali.
Grupo Aguacero students with Reporteritos from Cartagena
I’m proud to say those 15 year-old kids are all grown up now (graduating college) and have started their own nonprofit working with at-risk youth in their neighborhood: the students have become the teachers!  I continue to work with them but as a friend and supporter, a regular member of the group. They recently got a contract to take photos of 14,000 students in their neighborhood.  It makes me so proud that these former students are now helping the community and making money using some of the skills I taught them.
Three years ago I began 2 new programs independently, one at Stetson Charter School in North Philly where I teach and the other in La Florida, Colombia, a farming village near Bogotá. 
I decided that instead of teaching the groups in isolation that there was so much they could learn from each other.  So last year I took 5 of my Philly students, 2 parents, and 2 teachers to La Florida as part one a 2-way photography-based cultural exchange.
It was incredibly successful and the kids forged amazing bonds of friendship and learned so much from each other.  This summer the goal is to bring a group of the Colombia students to Philly and exhibit all the student’s work alongside my own at Taller Puertorriqueño’s Lorenzo Homar Gallery in June 2013.
There is a boatload of info about my projects with youth @
 AR-L: Who are the young photographers? Where do they come from and what are their backgrounds?
TR: My photo students from Philly are recruited from the student body of Stetson Charter Middle School where I teach computer science. They are mostly of Puerto Rican and Dominican backgrounds, though I do have two African American students.
 My students in Colombia are from the village of La Florida where I partner with Fundación San Martin de Porres, a Catholic foundation run by a wonderful man, Padre Angel Alfaro. The kids and their families are members of his congregation.
AR-L: What are some of your short and long-term goals for this program?
TR: In the short term I hope to complete this 2-way cultural exchange successfully and have an amazing exhibition this summer.  It is incredibly challenging to raise the money and organize the events.  Thank God I now have an amazing board of directors that will help me take our work to the next level. Our foundation is called Photography Without Borders and our long-term goals are to get larger and more consistent sources of funding and to build partnerships that will allow us to continue our programs here and in Colombia.
AR-L: Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions you would like to tell us about?
TR: We will be having a big Kickstarter Campaign in the Spring 2013 to help raise money to bring our Colombia kids to the US this summer.  Also, our big exhibition in the Galería Lorenzo Homar in Taller Puertorriqueño in Philadelphia is less than 8 months away and will be a great way to highlight all the hard work these kids in Philly and Colombia have been doing the past 3 years. It will also be great for me personally to be able to show my recent Colombia work alongside that of my students.
AR-L: For the recipe portion of this blog interview Tony admitted he doesn’t cook much so we decided to research some of his favorite Colombian dishes. Here’s a recipe for Colombian Chicken Sancocho @
  • 3 ears fresh corn, cuted into 3 pieces
  • 12 cups of water
  • ½ cup aliños
  • 1 big whole chicken
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • green plantains, peeled and cut crosswise into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 6 medium white potatoes, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 pound frozen yucacut into big pieces
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper



1. In a large pot, place the chicken, corn, aliños, chicken bouillon, salt and green plantain. Add the water and bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to medium and cook for about 30 to 35 minutes.

2. Add the potatoes, yuca and pepper and continue cooking for 30 more minutes or until the yuca and potatoes are fork tender. Stir in the cilantro.

3. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve in large soup bowls, dividing the chicken and vegetables evenly.

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You are currently reading Tony Rocco (USA/Colombia) at Diálogo 365: CARPE DIEM @ Art in City Hall.


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