Miss Rosen: Bronx Documentary Center
The South Bronx was given a shoddy reputation some four decades ago after a governmental policy of “benign neglect” enabled landlords to practice arson with impunity, thus destroying a neighborhood from the inside out. Over the years, the neighborhood has successfully rebuilt itself, emerging from the rubble like a phoenix, reminding us of that the Bronx stays true to its motto no matter what comes its way, “Do not give way to evil” or in Latin, “Ne cede malis.”
Yet, despite the progress, the South Bronx currently ranks as the poorest congressional district in the entire United States. It is shocking to consider that in one of the most powerful cities on earth, abject poverty is as common as excessive wealth. It is a testament to American spirit that the Bronx Documentary Center (BDC) now stands in the heart of the South Bronx with the express purpose of creating a community space for open and provocative discussion of the spaces where art and politics meet.
Co-founder Michael Kamber notes, “Creating a space devoted to documentary photography and film, as well as visual and cultural education, was something I had talked about for years with both Danielle Jackson and Tim Hetherington, my closest friend. Tim helped plan the Bronx Documentary Center. When he was killed in Libya on April 20th, 2011, we immediately set to work building the Bronx Documentary Center in his memory.”
Kamber continues, “My family settled here in the Bronx in the 1920s and both Danielle and myself have lived in the Bronx off and on. We find the borough has a certain community spirit and hospitality. And though there is a rich cultural tradition here, there are few gallery spaces and none devoted to documentary photography and film. Also, Tim Hetherington was passionate about education in underserved communities, doing workshops for aspiring photographers in Africa and the Middle East. He was excited about doing it here in our Melrose neighborhood; he felt it reflected our values of spreading knowledge and skill in a democratic manner.”
On January 19, the BDC will open “Seis del Sur: Dispatches from Home by Six Nuyorican Photographers," an exhibition of photographs, video, and ephemera by Joe Conzo, Ricky Flores, Ángel Franco, David Gonzalez, Edwin Pagán and Francisco Molina Reyes II. “Seis del Sur” is Spanish for “Six from the South,” a reference to the fact that all six photographers are of Puerto Rican descent and were raised in the South Bronx, each of them documenting their lives and their neighborhoods over a period of thirty years without knowing of each other until they met, by chance, at Hunter College in 2009.
Edwin Pagán, filmmaker and Seis photographer, notes, “It's ironic that we chose one of the most expensive hobbies as a form of expression in the poorest congressional district in the nation during a time when the city was in the midst of an epic fiscal crisis and the borough of the Bronx was going up in flames."
“Seis del Sur” is remarkable for the fact that it shows the Bronx as it was seen by insiders (rather than the more popular photographic and cultural depictions that were created by outsiders over the years). The men in Seis depicted families, neighbors and friends, creating a collective archive that tells firsthand what it was like to live in a neighborhood that was presented to the world as a “war zone.” Though they add intimacy and feeling to the larger story itself, the group doesn’t sugarcoat nor sensationalize the story. Rather, the goal of “Seis del Sur” is to create a richer story and to expand the conversation.
The men of Los Seis have had a long-standing relationship with Kamber, many having met him over the years while Kamber worked as a photojournalist and activist, and describe the creation of the BDC as a return to the place where it all began. David Gonzalez, journalist, Seis photographer, and BDC Board Member observes, “The BDC is a much-needed addition to not just the Bronx's cultural scene, but the city's. It gives residents and students in the South Bronx a chance to see the highest quality photojournalism and documentary film in an inviting setting, where they can interact with Mike and other photographers.”
Gonzalez continues, “In a way, it reminds me of the cross-cultural dialogue Stefan Eins did back in the 1980s with Fashion Moda, which used to be in a storefront just a few blocks south on Third Avenue. The BDC is perhaps a spiritual brother to Fashion Moda, quick to react and seize opportunities that create interesting discussions about art and community. As someone who was born in the South Bronx and has long written about the area, Los Seis at the BDC is a homecoming.”
Seis del Sur: Dispatches From Home by Six Nuyorican Photographers
Photographs by Joe Conzo, Jr, Ricky Flores, Angel Franco, David Gonzalez, Edwin Pagán, Francisco Molina Reyes II
January 19- March 18, 2013
Bronx Documentary Center
614 Courtlandt Avenue (@ 151st St.)
Bronx, New York 10451