The beauty and professionalism of this photography exhibit comes out of love.
“Seis del Sur Sin Limites” (Six of the South. Without Limits) opened at the Bronx Center for Musical Heritage, 1303 Louis Nine Boulevard, on the evening of July 25th and will show until September 20th.
There is the sense of tragedy survived that intensifies the love of the survivors for each other and their community. The photographers all went through the war zone that the Bronx became in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. One of the photographers lived in a building that caught on fire twice in six months. As David Gonzalez remembers the moment, his family felt imperiled because they lived on the top floor so that a fire below them could quickly kill them all.
The six photographers in this show started shooting the events, people and scenes of the Bronx during these bad old days. However, they did so as insiders who saw the great character, compassion, creativity, idiosyncrasies and follies, too, of their mainly Puerto Rican neighbors. Joe Conzo, Jr. Ricky Flores, Angel Franco, David González, Francisco Molina Reyes II and Edwin Pagan loved their families, their people and neighbors. In their eyes too many of outside news media missed the assets that the community was assembling to fight off terror and despair. Too often, the piteous view of the Bronx was like that of the Mars Rover expedition on Mars looking for alien life forms. The expeditions missed the humaneness of Bronx life.
The first Seis del Sur exhibit, which showed last year, particularly made the statement that the Bronx and its six photographers survived, and that they have a loving and lovely story to tell that is greater than the horror story.
Seis II moves further away from the tragedian views of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and fills in even more about the love in the Bronx.
Part of that love is an intense compassion for other Puerto Ricans and Hispanics who are also hit by horrible tragedies. Edwin Pagan looked across the river at the East Harlem explosion that collapsed two buildings, killed eight and injured several score in mid-March. The area used to be the capitol of Puerto Ricans in America. So, the explosion caught their hearts’ attentions. There was a hearkening back to the tragedies of the 1960s, 1970s, and the 1980s. Pagan’s photo also brings us face to face with a scene that is reminiscent of the cloud of debris and smoke rolling down the streets from the collapsed World Trade Center. That event still evokes numbness and pain among New Yorkers.
The photo has another connection to the World Trade Center in the way that New Yorkers banded together to help victims. East Harlem isn’t as Puerto Rican today as it once was. Now, there are many Mexicans and other Hispanics living in the area. But in the tragedy all came together. The church that was destroyed was founded by Puerto Ricans and pastored by Puerto Ricans. Several of the victims from the church, however, were from elsewhere like Mexico. Puerto Rican pastors, priests and social service workers opened the doors of their facilities to the victims.
A man walks nonchalantly in front of the smoke filled valley between the buildings. Life goes on. Unity and love prevails.
Angel Franco’s photos of the poor in Bolivia show how the compassion born out of the Bronx reaches out across national boundaries. It is awe inspiring.
Gonzalez’s choice of black and white for his photos lend a somewhat historical, somber ingredient to his deeply humane portrayals of the religious side of the Bronx. Two photos were for New York Times’ stories about repairing the Bronx. In one published in Gonzalez's "Streets" column, R. Dario Cano A., the conservator of old St. Anselm’s Catholic Church, falls in love with the Bronx while he is doing the repairs.
The church has details that combine Byzantine, Greek, Italian and German styles, much like the legendary Saint Sofia’s in Istanbul, Turkey. The congregation is similarly mixed with members from at least sixteen countries.
His fellow conservators warned Cano against going to the South Bronx. Gonzalez reports Cano’s reaction, “Nothing has happened to me here except the Bronx stole my heart. That’s the only thing I lost here.”
The photo of the child next to the Virgin Mary on a t-shirt (pictured at the first of the article) makes us fall in love with the Bronx spirit standing against adversity. Thieves had broken into the urban farm La Finca del Sur (“The Farm of the South”) in Mott Haven and stole everything of value.
“The idea” of the farm, Gonzalez wrote in 2011 for the New York Times, “was to create a woman-run space that would address the issues of a healthy heart, soul and community in an area where many residents hailed from rural parts of Mexico and the Caribbean. Nancy Ortiz-Surun, one of the core volunteers, said that the far combined history, tradition and community. “This to me,” she told Gonzalez, “is all about laying down roots. Puerto Ricans have moved so far from that, yet we brought that tradition here. … We need to show them."
Cayetano Reyes, who hails from Mexico, joined the farm during the summer of 2011--- "renting out two plots for $20, which he quickly turned into thick little patches bursting with tomatillos, jalapenos, okra, melons and tomatoes." I wanted to leave right away to go see if he had a bounty this summer!
The farmers with their children were undaunted and returned to tend to their harvest. Bronx faith in the future doesn't die.
There are many other special touches of this exhibit. We mainly have focused on the photos that touch upon the religious aspects of the city. The photographers spread their love wide: from exciting color photos of musicians to the joyous moments of everyday life. Each photographer has his own style and favorite subject matters. One can hardly stand the wait for their next exhibit of soul nourishing photos.
After the exhibit, we crossed the street and dropped by another place of Bronx faith and resilience. Norberto Carrero, pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Torrente de Cedron, was in the Ching-a-Ling gang until 1974. Prior to Pastor Carrero's spiritual re-birth, he served as a gang division leader called “the Enforcer.” Yet, in the basement of the little church across the street from the photo exhibit, Carrero’s life was changed. He was saved as the old language said, and now he saves others. From photographers to pastors, from firemen to flower vendors, the Bronx spirit lives on.