Hiram Maristany (1945-2022) was Nuyorican photographer and activist revered as the photographer of “Puerto Rican life in East Harlem.”

Hiram Sebastian Maristany was born in Manhattan to Reinaldo and Margarita Maristany, who migrated to New York from Puerto Rico. In his early teens, Maristany picked up a camera at the suggestion of social worker Dan Murrow, beginning the sixty plus year documentation of his East Harlem community, also known as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio.

In the late 1960s Maristany was a part of an antipoverty program called the Photography Workshop, funded by the Social Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. He was an active member in his community and through this program Maristany met other young activists, including future Young Lords members. At the founding of the New York Chapter of the Young Lords, later known as the Young Lords Party, Maristany was one of the original members and their official photographer.

A black and white photograph of an unidentified person wearing a leather jacket and two buttons.

Photograph of the Young Lords Party and Black Panther Party buttons, 1970–76. Photograph by Hiram Maristany. 

© Hiram Maristany
A black and white photograph of Denise Oliver, the first female member of Young Lords Party Central Committee. Oliver stands above two unidentified men and holds a document in front of her with her left hand. One of the unidentified men is holding a flag. Buildings and fire escapes are visible in the background of the photograph.

Denise Oliver, ca. 1970. Photograph by Hiram Maristany. 

© Hiram Maristany
A black and white photograph of the Young Lords Rally at Tompkins Square Park in 1969.

A Young Lords Party rally, July 26, 1969. Photograph by Hiram Maristany. 

© Hiram Maristany

Maristany participated in and documented the political activism of the Young Lords Party, including the Garbage Offensive and the occupation of the First Spanish United Methodist Church. He was also committed to other forms of community activism, including helping artist Raphael Montañez Ortiz establish a museum for and by the community: El Museo del Barrio. By 1971, Maristany was organizing educational activities, exhibitions, programs, and workshops for the museum. Later that year, he along with Marta Moreno Vega, Eugene Calderón, and Hilda Arroyo became the initial directors for “Amigos del Museo del Barrio.” Four years later, Maristany was named the Acting Assistant Director, and, from April 1975 to 1977, served as the museum’s Acting Director.

Throughout his life Maristany was an integral member of the Nuyorican movement and grew to become one of the “most prolific and consequential Latinx photographers of the latter half of the 20th century.” He documented the everyday life of the East Harlem community, the joys and hardships, the discrimination, self-determination, dignity, and resilience. He remained active in the Puerto Rican and larger Latinx movements as a mentor to artists including Miguel Luciano.

Hiram Maristany called his photography part history and part documentary, but most importantly, a way to uphold cultural identity. He is remembered as the people’s photographer of El Barrio, the community he loved, where he was a lifelong resident until his death in 2022.

Discover Hiram Maristany’s works across Smithsonian collecting units.

View Hiram Maristany's Photographs in the NMAAHC Collection

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