During Game 2 of the 1977 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers, played at Yankee Stadium, the live video feed panned to a fire in a large apartment building not far from Yankee Stadium. Announcer Howard Cosell, upon seeing the fire, famously said to the audience watching the game on television, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is burning.”
That line has been oft repeated, used in book titles and tv specials, and seared into the minds of many of a certain age, who have passed the story down to newer generations. It has helped cement the view that the Bronx is a crime-ridden, vicious place that is best avoided for fear of what may happen to those who venture there.
But Cosell never actually said the famous line during the broadcast. He and fellow announcer Keith Jackson did talk about the fire 5 different times during the game. They commented on the size of the fire, that it was not far from where President Carter had visited a few weeks before, and that the fire department had their work cut out for them. So, like so much else in the Bronx, reality and narrative don’t always mesh. While the Bronx has had a rough history, there is much more to it than that.
The current exhibition at the Bronx Documentary Center (BDC), on view through May 14, explores the Bronx through the work of photographers on the Everyday Bronx project in the hopes of changing how people see the borough.
Everyday Bronx (@EverydayBronx) is a Bronx-themed Instagram account working to tell a more complex and nuanced story of what life in the Bronx is really like. With more than 48,000 followers at the time of writing, the account is part of The Everyday Projects, a global initiative to amplify local voices and advance a collective, grassroots style of storytelling.
Rhynna M. Santos (@rhynnasantos) is a Puerto Rico-born documentary photographer and teaching artist, living and working in the Bronx. She runs Everyday Bronx, which originally began as an educational workshop for elementary school students. Santos took over the project after that, and now leads a 5-member volunteer team which posts images every day of the year— though anyone can tag their photographs of Bronx life to the project.
“When I started, I was concerned with learning how an account like this is supposed to be run,” Santos said. “I had just recently gotten on Instagram … I had to learn quickly how it all worked and how to grow the feed. When I first started, the hashtag #bronx or anything affiliated with the Bronx was used to describe any abject thing. I knew I had to do something to change that.”
And while she started working on the project alone, Santos also began to look for other like-minded photographers to add to the project. “I first found volunteers from the Bronx Photo League, a photography group in the Bronx. When I wanted to expand the team, I looked to our contributors,” she said. “I interviewed them to see if their view of the Bronx matched our mission.”
Santos had a vision: to use the feed to combat the negative stereotypes that thrive about the Bronx and create an online archive of Bronx life. “My plan was to grow the feed, feature cell phone photography, and use work exclusively from our followers. I wanted this to be the premier feed of the Bronx. To show Bronxites and the world what it was really like living here and the complexity of people who lived here. I wanted to create a space where Bronxites could be in conversation with each other.”
Tara Garcia (@fotosfinos) first created her Instagram account as a repository for her photographic work about the Bronx after a conversation with Jamel Shabazz, who suggested that she give it room to breathe on its own. This led to her inclusion in the Everyday Bronx project.
“I took [Shabazz’s] advice and started posting as @fotosfinos using the Bronx hashtag. Someone from Everyday Bronx spotted a pic and once I was featured, I was blown away by all the beautiful energy and community surrounding the brand. From fellow contributors and how supportive they are, to the curatorial team that does an incredible job at both consistency and equity. It’s a labor of love and it shows.”
For the exhibition, the BDC worked in collaboration with Santos to curate an exhibition from Everyday Bronx featuring more than 300 photographs, including 140 prints and video displays. The photos and videos look to portray the real Bronx, dispel misconceptions about the borough, and rewrite the narrative of the Bronx one photo at a time.
Santos hopes the exhibition will allow people to see Bronx residents in all their humanity: “I would love for people to take away from the collection of photos in this exhibition how beautiful, complex, creative, tender, and strong the people of the Bronx are. The magnificent way in which they tell their own stories. To think deeper about their misconceptions of the Bronx and the people who work and live here.“
Shammara McKay (@sheshootsny), another photographer who contributes to the project, agrees. “I want people to know that there is humanity here; that these neighborhoods are inhabited by a diverse mix of people with their own stories and unique experiences which adds value to the community. The Bronx is far from a bland place and has a lot of flavor … People often have their stereotypical ideas of what they think the Bronx is. I hope when people see my work, they get to see a glimpse of the Bronx that I see. A place that may have a tough exterior, but when you look closer you get the understanding that there is so much more here than meets the eye.“
Everyday Bronx is on display at the Bronx Documentary center through May 14th. Information on hours and directions can be found on the BDC website.