Born the oldest of three boys in the South Bronx to Puerto Rican immigrants in 1946, his family moved to the Cypress Hills Housing Project in East New York, Brooklyn in 1954. Interested in photography from childhood, Velez studied photography at the New York High School of Art and Design between 1961 and 1964.

His work has been exhibited and rests in the collections of El Museo del Barrio, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Municipal Art Society, The Bronx Museum of Art, The New York, Brooklyn and New Jersey Historical Societies, The Newark Museum, Brooklyn Borough Hall, Rutgers University’s Alexander Library, and President William J. Clinton.

In order to accomplish the quality and the depth his work evokes, Velez spent time getting to know his subjects. He joined them in their celebrations, grieving, daily life, and traditions and is trusted enough to take the positive and intimate photographs displayed.

Beginning in 1987, he taught photography in the Fine Arts Department at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, as a Professor, where he coordinated the “Arts Dialogue,” an artists’ lecture series, and the B.F.A. Photography program.

In 2014, after 27 years at Kean University he retired. Velez lived in South Norwalk’s Village Creek community with his wife Barbara.

In 2016, Tony succumbed to multiple myeloma, linked to exposure to Agent Orange during his service in the U.S. military while stationed in Vietnam.