By Michael Kamber
The South Bronx, one of America’s poorest urban areas, is two subway stops from the wealthiest, Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Change, development, gentrification — the terms are sometimes used interchangeably though not the same thing — are headed its way.
For three decades, I have watched artists move into marginal neighborhoods as unwitting shock troops for the city’s developers — often while filling galleries with art far removed from the pressing issues of the day. I have also seen a generation of journalists parachute into poor communities to extract tales for consumption elsewhere. I’m not knocking the journalists; some are my heroes, and the best have pulled back the curtain and helped create lasting social change. A few of the artists, too.
Still, certain voices have been missing.
When I moved back to the South Bronx and started the Bronx Documentary Center in 2011, we began training and mentoring a small group of local photographers. We called it the Bronx Photo League, after the legendary Photo League of the 1940s, which consisted of factory workers and clerks who loved photography and cared about social justice.
Our group includes Mexican and West African immigrants. David (Dee) Delgado, who went from a troubled youth to becoming a responsible family man, helps lead the group along with Rhynna Santos, a Latin music manager, and Adi Talwar, an Indian immigrant. All are passionate and perceptive photographers; all share a commitment to accurately document the realities and changes in our own community, some positive, some not. We strive for balance, not sensation.