For over two decades (1977-2000), Stephen Shames photographed a group of boys coming of age in the Bronx in a neighborhood ravaged by drugs, violence and gangs.
These young men allowed Shames extraordinary access into their lives on the street and in their homes. Shames met the “Bronx boys” as children, and tracked them growing up, falling in love, and having children of their own.
The work explores the interplay between good and evil, violence and love, chaos and family. He captures the brutality of the times — the fights, the shootings, the arrests, the drug deals – but also revelatory moments of love and tenderness.
FotoEvidence Press will publish Bronx Boys as a first of its kind photo Ebook in July 2011. Bronx Boys resides on the viewer’s computer and has the look and feel of a physical book with high-resolution images that can be viewed full screen. A special feature allows the viewer to zoom into details without loss of image quality. Designed by Jack Lovell of Schwam Lovell, it is a unique art object that will revolutionize the way photographs are distributed and viewed digitally. Most of the work in Bronx Boys has never been seen or published.
“I wanted to publish Bronx Boys because the work respects the dignity of these young people, struggling to find meaning, love and community in the most difficult circumstances,” says Svetlana Bachevanova, publisher, FotoEvidence, “Bronx Boys provides a remarkably intimate story of young people that is touching, tragic, but also hopeful.”
Shames took his first photos in 1977 on East Tremont Avenue during an assignment for Look magazine, which closed down shortly thereafter. He photographed a boy named Ralph jumping between two rooftops. That same day he shot the Claremont Boys Motorcycle Club members showing off their women. When Ralph and his family moved to Decatur Avenue and 193rd Street he followed them. The pictures in this book were made on Decatur and also on Bathgate Avenue between Washington and 3rd Avenues.
Most of the young men Shames photographed died young or went to jail. A few, including Shames’s two godsons, Martin Dones and Jose “Poncho” Munoz, managed to overcome the challenges of their youth. They are now successful businessmen in their forties who both still call Shames “Dad,” and attribute his mentoring to making a difference in their lives.
In his first person narrative, Martin Dones provides details about growing up in Bronx in a home of “violence, sex, and drugs” where his mother and her boyfriend drank heavily and fought constantly, and he was left to his own devices. He writes that his first childhood memory is the murder of his cousin who was beaten and thrown off a rooftop to die. Martin is now a supervisor of a food company, on his way to higher management. He is married with four children.
Jose “Poncho” Munoz, who contributes an afterword entitled “My Whole Childhood Photographed,” writes “Steve was always pushing me go to school. I wanted to go, but I was not focused. Steve was still there for me. I told Steve all the time ‘thank you for being the actual guy.” Today, Poncho is married with three daughters, and owns a successful business. He still lives in the Bronx.
About Stephen Shames:
Since he began working in 1967, childhood and family have been the central concerns of Stephen Shames’ photography. Shames is author of four other monographs: Outside the Dream: Child Poverty in America (Aperture 1991), Pursuing the Dream: What Helps Children and Their Families Succeed (Aperture 1997), The Black Panthers (Aperture 2006), and Transforming Lives: Turning Uganda’s Forgotten Children Into Leaders (Star Bright Books 2009). Stephen Shames’s images are in the permanent collections of the International Center of Photography, the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Photographic Arts, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He has received awards from Kodak (Crystal Eagle for Impact in Photojournalism), World Hunger Year, Leica, the International Center of Photography, and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Foundation.
In 2004, Shames started an educational youth leadership program called L.E.A.D Uganda (www.leaduganda.org), which locates vulnerable children in Africa, and educates them in the best schools so they can go on to be leaders and serve their communities and country.
FotoEvidence is a publishing platform for documentary photographers whose work focuses on social justice and violations of human rights. Founded in 2010 by Svetlana Bachevanova, a long-time photojournalist, to continue the tradition of using photography to draw attention to assaults on human dignity wherever they may occur.
Every year the FotoEvidence Book Award recognizes a photo project documenting evidence of social injustice with the publication of a book. The selected project will be published as part of a FotoEvidence series of books dedicated to the work of photographers whose commitment and courage deliver painful truths, creating an awareness and intolerance toward violations of human dignity.
At FotoEvidence.com, the Report Injustice Now feature provides the opportunity for documentary photographers to immediately submit images of injustice they witness for publication. In addition, FotoEvidence publishes FotoWitness, interviews with seasoned photojournalists that provide insight and inspiration for working and aspiring documentary photographers.