Biographical / Historical
Francisco Luis Espada Roig, commonly known as Frank Espada, was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico in December of 1930. Espada and his family migrated to New York City in 1939. He attended public school and after high school briefly attended City College of New York. In 1949 he joined the Air Force. After serving in the Air Force, he began his career in documentary photography.
In 1951 or 1952 he began attending the New York Institute of Photography on the GI Bill. Influenced by important New York-based photographers Dave Heath and Gene Smith, Espada became intent on pursuing what he called his "first love"- documentary photography. He specialized in photographing the Puerto Rican diaspora.
In 1952 he married his wife, Marilyn. They had three children, Lisa, Jason, and Martin. Espada began working for an electrical contractor to provide for his family, a job he would have for ten years. During this time, Espada became heavily involved in the New York community and the Civil Rights Movement, organizing voter registration drives, rent strikes, and marches for civil rights.
In the 1970s, he was a Fellow with the Ford Foundation working with the Drug Abuse Council, where he created a large body of work. In 1979 he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which allowed him to pursue his "life-long dream of shooting a major documentary." He began working on his book, The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Themes in the Survival of a People, where he documented Puerto Rican communities and the Puerto Rican experience around the United States, including Hawaii and Guam.
In 1985 he moved to San Francisco and was given the opportunity to teach at the UC Berkeley Extension Program. He discovered that he loved to teach, which resulted in what he referred to as "eighteen of the best years of my life."
In 1989 he joined forces with the Youth Environment Studies (YES), documenting the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. In 2005 he retired from teaching and continued working on his book. In 2007, his book, The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Themes in the Survival of a People, was published.
In his later years, he turned to color photography and landscapes. He passed away in February of 2014 from a heart problem.