Los Angeles Uprising 1992 | National Civil Rights Museum

Los Angeles Uprising 1992

Los Angeles Uprising 1992

by José Galvez , Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer 

featuring art installation “Florence and Normandie” by Lawrence Matthews


Gallery Talk & Reception with
José Galvez and Lawrence Matthews 
Wednesday, April 12, 2017 • 6:00pm • State of Tennessee Gallery

In the spring of 1991, Rodney King was beaten by four Los Angeles police officers after a high-speed chase. A bystander's video footage of the assault was broadcast nationally. A year later, the officers were acquitted of all charges and rioting ensued in Los Angeles. 53 people died and thousands were injured.

Twenty-five years later, the exhibit Los Angeles Uprising 1992 contains over 20 photos depicting the destruction and quality life in L.A. after the riots. Galvez will speak about his experiences as a Hispanic-American reporter in L.A., how the city has recovered from the chaos and the evidence of racial strife that remains.

The exhibit also features an installation by Memphis artist Lawrence Matthews III.  Matthews’ piece is a compilation of television screens simulcasting footage of news reports on police brutality, widespread violence, destruction and public response in disbelief and anger. Matthews work and discussion articulate parallels in racial tension today.


In the aftermath, José Galvez, a Los Angeles Times photographer, took personal time to record the changes in the community. Less than a week after the riots had died down, he discovered that flashpoints had become tourist attractions. Curiosity seekers brought their own cameras to pose with wreckage.  Galvez also stumbled on quieter damage that captured the deep sadness behind the violence: burnt Bibles, a destroyed wedding dress, and close to his heart, scattered dark room supplies from a camera store.

“I went out to photograph, knowing I’d see destruction of property, lives, and dreams,” Galvez said. “But what surprised me was how quickly a week of sorrow, anger, and tragedy so clear in the detritus, had become yet another LA attraction. True pain had been reduced not just to ashes but, ...absurdity.” 

Los Angeles Uprising 1992 is showing at the Museum through April 29, the 25th anniversary on which the riots in L.A. began.  The exhibition is included with museum admission.


About José Galvez

Baret Boisson. Photo: © Isaac Hernandez Herrero/IsaacHernandez.com

When José Galvez was 10, he carried his shoeshine box into the building of the Arizona Daily Star. After that night, he was a permanent fixture in the newsroom. He bought a camera at a pawn shop in high school and inspired by his mentors at the paper, went on to major in journalism at the University of Arizona. Upon graduation he became a staff photographer at the Star. No matter what his assignments were early on, José always focused his lens on the barrios of Tucson - his home - and the people who lived, worked, and loved there. He had his first professional exhibition when he was just 22 years old. At about the same time, José's participation in the Chicano Movement led him to see his work as more than a passion: he had a responsibility to capture the history of his people.

Galvez moved on to the Los Angeles Times, becoming the first Mexican-American photographer on staff. In 1984, he was on a team of reporters and photographers that won a Pulitzer Prize for a series on Latino life in southern California: the first Chicanos to win the Prize. He left the Times in 1992 after winning many other awards for his photographs.

Galvez was an editor of and contributor to Americanos. He’s collaborated with writers such as Luis Alberto Urrea and Patricia Martin. He published his own childhood stories in Shine Boy. His current work focuses on Latino communities of the American South, naturalization ceremonies, and documenting the many communities he visits every year.

For over 40 years, José Galvez has used black and white film to create a powerful and unparalleled historical record of the Latino experience in America. His compelling work, done with respect, pride and no pretense, captures the beauty of daily life.   For José, photographing the lives of Latinos is not a one-time project or “current passion” but a lifelong commitment. 

His photographs have been exhibited in museums and galleries here and abroad, including the Smithsonian. But more often, you’ll find him toting portable exhibits to schools, libraries, fiestas, lowrider shows, and rodeos.


Man sorts through rubble of a burned out business about a mile from Los Angeles city center a few days after rioting had subsided. ©José Galvez 


People drag boxes of food that were being distributed by church groups in the days following the Los Angeles uprising of 1992. Many of the grocery stores in South Central LA and Watts were burned during the uprising and churches and community groups stepped in to fill the void. ©José Galvez  



Pages from burned up bibles litter the floor of a religious supplies business. ©José Galvez 


Graffiti on the wall of a liquor store with special emphasis directed towards Rodney King who was the victim of a police beating in 1991 which eventually led to the riots of 1992. Liquor stores were one of the main targets of arson during the days of the uprising. ©José Galvez   


Iconic image of Malcolm X with the message of FReedom propped up on the chassis of a burned up pickup truck. The service station was on the corner of Normandie and Florence which was one of the flashpoints of the rioting. It was where the attack on truck driver Reginald Denny occurred which was captured live on film. A few days after rioting had subsided the corner had become a tourist attraction with people posing for pictures next to the burned up vehicles. ©José Galvez    

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