Art / Culture

Crowds flock to photos of area’s recent past

This photo taken by Ricky Flores at Park 52 in Longwood was used in the poster for the exhibit Seis Del Sur: Dispatches from Home by Six Nuyorican Photographers. The woman in the picture, Myrna Figueroa-Sempre, was at the opening on Jan. 19.

Seis del Sur show emphasizes South Bronx’s vibrancy

Among the hundreds of people who jammed the Bronx Documentary Center on Jan. 19 for the opening of the exhbibit “Seis Del Sur: Dispatches from Home by Six Nuyorican Photographers” were many who looked at the photos and saw their own past.

They gazed at images of buildings in flames and rubble-strewn lots that made the South Bronx a byword for urban decay, but also at images of joy, of couples dancing in the streets, children playing and artists creating.

Those photographs and videos set the show apart by offering a vision of the South Bronx from the 1970’s to the 1990’s as a place of vibrant culture, said Bronx resident John Fenn.

“The thing that strikes me the most,” said Fenn “is that it captures the essence of what the Bronx was. The flavor is there.”

Celia Forster, a retired midwife who worked at Bronx Lebanon hospital during the 1970’s mused, “I remember the days of devastation in the South Bronx. This is an important side for people to see.”

The group of photographers–Angel Franco, Joe Conzo Jr., David Gonzalez, Ricky Flores, Francisco Molina Reyes II, and Edwin Pagán–who call themselves Seis Del Sur, or Six from the South, came together as a collective when they met at a showing of Conzo’s work at Hunter College in 2009. They realized that each had recorded a vision of their own neighborhoods that demonstrated that life in the South Bronx went beyond turmoil and raging fires.

“Through organization and creativity we fought back,” said Flores. “It just shows the legacy and the resilience of the South Bronx.”

“There’s a lot of pride that’s shown in these photographs” agreed Bronx resident David Stock as he moved through the sea of bodies to look at the photographs on the hanging panels in the storefront gallery, where a crowd that included such notables as musician Afrika Bombaataa, actress Annabella Sciorra, the artists of Tats Cru and former Borough President Fernando Ferrer spilled onto Courtlandt Avenue.

The exhibit added to the dialogue about the South Bronx’s past, said Robert Graham, the producer of the Bronx International Film Festival, who described the way it that it brings viewers back to the not-so-distant past as “historically retrospective.”

Among the hundreds who came to the opening was Mirna Figueroa-Sempre. She’s the poster child for the exhibit, shown dancing in 52 Park in a Flores photograph.

“It’s awesome that something like this is happening in our own neighborhood,” she said. “People can bring their children to view the exhibit and show them how the neighborhood has changed.”

Kenmore Williams said he’ll be back with his offspring. “The exhibit brings back a lot of memories. I have four kids and I’ll bring them to see the photos in this exhibit so they can see how I grew up,” he said.

Williams, a childhood friend of Edwin Págan, grew up next door to the Boys and Girls Club on Hoe Avenue where he got involved with sports and Págan first started exploring photography in the basement dark room.

“We knew we’d get a nice sized group, but this is a family outing,” said Pagan as he welcomed men, women and children to the show. And speaking to the crowd, David Gonzalez said, “This is our family album; these are our family pictures,” then deadpanned, “It’s just that we’ve got a complicated family.”

South Bronx native Joel Soto remarked about one of the photographs depicting children playing inside a building long neglected by its owner, “I grew up in the 70s and 80s and used to play in abandoned buildings. It brings back memories.”

Seis Del Sur: Dispatches from Home by Six Nuyorican Photographers will be on view at the Bronx Documentary Center, 614 Courtlandt Avenue, until March 8. Hours are Thursday and Friday 4-7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 2-6 p.m. Admission is free.

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