Joseph Rodriguez was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.

He began studying photography at the School of Visual Arts, and in 1985 he graduated with a Photojournalism and Documentary Diploma from the International Center of Photography in New York.

He went on to work for Black Star photo agency, and as a freelance for print and online news organizations like National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Newsweek, New York Magazine, Esquire, Stern, BBC News and New America Media. He is the author of Spanish Harlem by the National Museum of American Art/ D.A.P., as well as East Side Stories: Gang Life in East Los Angeles, Juvenile, Flesh Life Sex in Mexico City, and Still Here: Stories After Katrina, Powerhouse Books, Spanish Harlem El Barrio in the 80s.