"Alphabet City is a documentary project on the Puerto Rican community of Manhattan's Lower East Side. I lived just a few blocks from the Alphabet City neighborhood when I began photographing there in the late 1970s. It was at that time the largest heroin market in the world. I took pictures there for several years, and when I took the photographs around to try to get them published, the magazines weren't interested. It was the beginning of the Reagan-Bush years, and a photo editor at Life said, "We aren't interested in doing stories on poor people just because they're poor anymore."
I set the pictures aside and pursued other projects. After much soul-searching about documentary photography, I decided that the photographs by themselves did not sufficiently address all I had come to know and feel about the people I knew in Alphabet City. I missed their voices. I needed to go back into the neighborhood to see what more I could find, intending to locate the subjects of the photos I'd taken and to interview and re-photograph them. Ironically, before I got started, the photographs by themselves won a prestigious photojournalism award. In 1987, the Missouri School of Journalism's Pictures of the Year Contest accepted unpublished work for the first time for their Essay of the Year category. I submitted the Alphabet City photographs and won."