Two Loisaida lensmen are honored for their work


By Lincoln Anderson

In an effort to help two local photographers continue their work documenting the Puerto Rican culture of the Lower East Side and East Village, a pair of generous benefactors has donated funds to allow them to buy new top-of-the-line digital cameras.

The donors, who wish to remain anonymous, also presented certificates of merit to the two men, Roberto Mercado and Alfredo Irizarry. An award ceremony was held at La Plaza Cultural garden at E. Ninth St. and Avenue C on Nov. 4 after the co-naming of E. Ninth St. and Avenue B as Armando Perez Place.

Mercado and Irizarry both were part of the group that worked with the late Perez to better the neighborhood. Their mentor was the inspirational poet Jorge Brando, known as The Talking Coconut.

In the 1980s, Mercado was a Housing Authority caseworker dealing with tenants with AIDS. He was assigned to the East Village, where he started his photo-documentary work and came into contact with Perez.

“I’m not a photographer. I’m a snap-shooter,” Mercado said modestly.

Irizarry is multitalented, a videographer, writer, artist and musician, as well as photographer. As former Councilmember Miriam Friedlander, 92, was dancing near him in La Plaza after the Armando Perez Place sign dedication ceremony, Irizarry noted that way back in 1978 he had interviewed her for the now-defunct Loisaida magazine.

“By the way, Armando was a great photographer,” Irizarry added, noting he has kept thousands of shots by Perez in a trunk. The creative director of the former CHARAS/El Bohio, Perez was slain in April 1999 at age 51. At the time of his death, he was the East Village’s male Democratic district leader.

They were all part of “the Palladium crowd,” and would go out to the dance clubs on W. 14th St., Mercado and Irizarry said. Perez was the best dancer of the group, they said.

Whenever they got together to strategize about uplifting the neighborhood, culture was always a part of it.

“We would mix it in with the music, dance,” Irizarry explained.

Clayton Patterson, another local documentarian, had a hand in helping the two men get recognition for their work.

“What we really need down here is a Loisaida Museum to preserve the culture,” said Patterson.