The South Bronx on Fire: Photography Exhibit Chronicles a Borough on the Rebound


In September 2012, six photographers from the South Bronx, New York will come together in a show of photographic unity, in honor of the borough that raised them. The Seis Del Sur exhibition, comprised of images by noted photographers Joe Conzo, David Gonzalez, Ricky FloresAngel Franco, Edwin Pagan and Francisco Molina Reyes II, chronicles a time in the lives of the community’s residents when economic, political and social extremes helped to undermine the borough’s overall quality of life.

“Documenting the Bronx was a natural extension of photographing our family, friends and acquaintances. It was a direct outgrowth of what anyone would do in their own community,” says photographer and Seis Del Sur member Ricky Flores. “The difference was the time and place.”

For those on the outside looking in, many have heard and seen the stories of how the Bronx burned in the late '70s and early '80s. Many factors have been recognized for the deterioration of the Bronx during this period, such as the reduction of real-estate pricing and rent control laws that contributed to arson-related destruction of apartment housing. This, in turn, created a visual landscape of devastation within the neighborhood.

As Flores explains, “Later on, it became a realization that what was taking place was not normal and then the questions began for me. What was going on? Why was our community being systematically destroyed? Who was responsible for this happening?”


In reality, what emerged from the ashes during this period was a community united in culture and strong family ideals, something that the photo exhibition focuses on but the mainstream media usually ignores.

“It’s always one sided!” contributing photographer Joe Conzo says. “Yes, it was ‘bad’ and ‘the ghetto’ was full of addicts and crime, but there were thriving families there that made do with what they had. A lot of great people came out of the Bronx!”

Flores shares Conzo’s views on how the events in the Bronx have been interpreted. “Misconceptions ranged from who we were as Puerto Ricans and who was actually burning down and abandoning the community. They originally didn’t understand the birth of hip-hop and rap music as a direct reaction to the systematic attacks on our community, or the rise of community advocacy groups who fought back against the destruction of the Bronx.”

While other photographic records of the community have been made, such as Mel Rosenthal’s In the South Bronx of America (work that Flores and Conzo highly respect), what sets the Seis Del Sur crew apart is the direct relationship the photographers have with the neighborhood. “The principal difference with my own work and his was simply timing and that I was actually living in the community while the destruction was going on,” Flores explains. “I had access to things that were happening there on a daily basis, night and day, as a resident of the community. The same was true for each member of the Seis, all residents who were familiar with the community and culture who continue to document life in the South Bronx.”

With the show being held at the Bronx Documentary Center, the group hopes to create a dialogue with the audience about the culture and community that grew from the adversity the South Bronx experienced. “We hope to give a perspective of what it was like to live in a community that we all loved and provide our point of view of what took place while we lived and worked there,” Flores says. “We want to show not only the conditions of life there during that time, but provide a more personal perspective of insiders who lived in the community, something that has not taken place in the history of documenting the South Bronx. The work of the Seis is singular because of that very unique perspective.”