The Bronx Photo League Documents Jerome Avenue | American Photo

The Bronx Photo League Documents Jerome Avenue

“We’re training and empowering working class people in the Bronx to represent their own images and their own communities.”

© Heriberto Sanchez/Bronx Photo League

Johnny Alexander, outreach coordinator for Morris Heights Health Center.

© Heriberto Sanchez/Bronx Photo League

Jerome Avenue stretches 5.6 miles through the Bronx, one of the borough’s longest roads. Between 167th Street and 184th, the street is home to a vibrant community of workers and tradespeople, with auto repair shops, factories, and independent family-owned businesses. It’s a culture that defies the corporatization that has consumed so much of New York City, a place where working class New Yorkers still make a living.

© Rhynna M. Santos/Bronx Photo League

Isabel Khalife, a cashier.

© Rhynna M. Santos/Bronx Photo League

But the city is planning to rezone this strip and its surrounding neighborhood, a change that will allow for eleven-story buildings and may overrun the area with expensive housing that will price out longstanding residents. A group of local photographers called the Bronx Photo League is working to document the neighborhood before it is drastically changed by gentrification. The Jerome Avenue Workers Project, first displayed inside of a Bronx auto body shop, is now documented in a book, Jerome Ave.

© Heriberto Sanchez/Bronx Photo League

Carmen and Elias Pacheco, can collectors.

© Heriberto Sanchez/Bronx Photo League

The book features 93 black-and-white photographs, ranging from a portrait of a hairdresser in her salon, to auto mechanics at work, to vendors on the street. Captions incorporate interviews with local workers and residents discussing their lives, families, careers, homes and, more.

© Michael Kamber/Bronx Photo League

Angelica Camacho, originally from Mexico, works as an Icee vendor on 170th Street and Jerome Avenue during the summer. She’s been in the Bronx for 25 years.

© Michael Kamber/Bronx Photo League

The League’s 18 members all live in the Bronx. “We’re training and empowering working class people in the Bronx to represent their own images and their own communities,” says photojournalist Michael Kamber, who helped start the Bronx Photo League last year out of the Bronx Documentary Center, a nonprofit, justice-oriented gallery and educational space he opened in 2011.

© Adi Talwar/Bronx Photo League

Rebecca Amponsah, originally from Ghana, works part-time at the God Is Wonderful Hair Weave & Braiding Center.

© Adi Talwar/Bronx Photo League

Looking at the book, Kamber points out a photo of a man named Josè Cruz standing in front of stacks of tires at Diffo Auto Glass & Flat Fix: “He came to the Bronx 25 years ago, fleeing the civil war in El Salvador. He found refuge in the Bronx, made a living in the Bronx, supported his family in the Bronx on Jerome Avenue. He’s a lifelong mechanic. He doesn’t speak much English … And he says, ‘if Jerome Avenue goes, there’s no place left in this city for me anymore.’”

 © David “Dee” Delgado and Michael Kamber/Bronx Photo League

Josè Cruz, a mechanic at Diffo Auto Glass & Flat Fix has been working on Jerome Avenue for 25 years; he came to the Bronx after fleeing civil war in his native El Salvador in 1990

© David “Dee” Delgado and Michael Kamber/Bronx Photo League

Bronx Photo League member Rhynna M. Santos was born in Puerto Rico, but spent years coming to the Bronx with her family to visit relatives. “I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid,” Santos says. “We moved to the United States when I was 8 years old, and in that move, we lost all of our photographs. So I’ve always been fascinated by family photos. We couldn’t afford cameras, and we couldn’t go to Sears for a family portrait. As I grew up, I saw how important that was, having photos to document your own family history.”

© Berthland Tekyi-Berto/Bronx Photo League

Vice grip pliers, a tool of the auto trade.

© Berthland Tekyi-Berto/Bronx Photo League

As an appreciator of art and photography, Santos had always been struck by how rarely she’d see people who looked like her reflected in work at major institutions. “I never thought I could really be a photographer for real. That was just a secret fantasy I always had.” But three and a half years ago, she discovered the Bronx Documentary Center, which she says altered the trajectory of her career. She stresses the importance of spaces that make art and photography resources accessible for low-income photographers of color.

© Osaretin Ugiagbe/Bronx Photo League

The Bronx Islamic Cultural Center.

© Osaretin Ugiagbe/Bronx Photo League

For the Jerome Avenue Workers Project, Santos largely focused on photographing women workers, including a woman from Puerto Rico working as a cashier at a 99-cent store who she interviewed on the job. “A lot of the time, we were the first ones to tell people about the rezoning,” says Santos. “It was heartbreaking to have to tell them. She said, ‘Oh my god, what’s going to happen to my customers? Where are they going to get their milk and bread?’ She was worried about them. And I asked, ‘Well what about you?’ She said she came here to put her son through college, and now her son is in college. It brought me to tears because people who have the least always think of others first and give the most.”

 © Trevon Blondet/Bronx Photo League

Tessie Polygerinos, co-owner of Munch Time Diner.

© Trevon Blondet/Bronx Photo League

There is a heightened level of care that Bronx Photo League photographers have for the stories of their neighbors. For Santos, it’s important to document the Bronx and help others to see the neighborhood as beautifully as she does every day: “I admire the people who live here. And the struggle, and the life lessons. I always try to carry that with me.”

© Nina Robinson/Bronx Photo League

Sylvester, a retired postal worker.

© Nina Robinson/Bronx Photo League

© David "Dee" Delgado/Bronx Photo League

Neighborhood resident Edwin Torres.

© David "Dee" Delgado/Bronx Photo League

© Jesus Emmanuel/Bronx Photo League

Mwanz sells incense, accessories and other holistic materials near the intersection of Burnside and Jerome Avenues.

© Jesus Emmanuel/Bronx Photo League

© Rhynna M. Santos/Bronx Photo League

Miriam Maddi, Botanica San Elias.

© Rhynna M. Santos/Bronx Photo League

© Edwin Torres/Bronx Photo League

Miguel Ángel Ruiz, auto mechanic.

© Edwin Torres/Bronx Photo League

 © Jonathan Santiago/Bronx Photo League

Julian, an auto mechanic at Prestige Mufflers. He is originally from Venezuela and has been working on Jerome Avenue for more than 25 years.

© Jonathan Santiago/Bronx Photo League

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