The Jerome Avenue Workers Project was a 2015 exhibition by the Bronx Photo League in conjunction with the Bronx Documentary Center, exploring and documenting the workers, storefronts, and trades of Jerome Avenue, an area in the South Bronx that still depends largely on small, working class businesses and faced displacement due to rising rents and potential rezoning. The project was the first major exhibition of the Bronx Photo League, a team of 16 Bronx photographers (Ed Alvarez, Trevon Blondet, David “Dee” Delgado, Melissa Bunni Elian, Jesus Emmanuel, Giacomo Francia, Michael Kamber, Katie Khouri, Netza Moreno, Nina Robinson, Heriberto Sanchez, Jonathan Santiago, Rhynna M. Santos, Adi Talwar, Berthland Tekyi-Berto, Edwin Torres, Elias Williams, and Osaretin Ugiagbe). The photographers explored the avenue, photographing, filming, and interviewing the workers and residents participating in one of the few industry/manual labor based communities in the city.
The Bronx Photo League, and the Bronx Documentary Center, started by Michael Kamber in 2011, focuses on documenting social justice issues and giving voices to members of the city who are often overlooked, marginalized, or misrepresented in the art, photography, journalism and documentary work world. The Jerome Avenue Workers Project, funded by a grant with the Workforce Development Institute, photographed auto mechanics, cashiers, musicians, families, and community members, many of whom are immigrants who have lived, worked, and created businesses and families in the neighborhood for decades. The project is both a nod to the quickly fading tradition of small industry and manual labor, and an effort to give representation to a neighborhood that faces extreme change in the coming years. The photographs, black and white portraits, shot on Kodak Tri-X negative film with Hasselblad cameras and lenses, are high-contrast, sensitive images of people in their workplaces and on their streets. According to Kamber, subjects were allotted two or three frames each, rather than the dozens or hundreds that photographers may take when using digital cameras. The photographers all processed their rolls by hand, as a way to reference the manual-quality of the project. This adds to the sensitivity and authenticity of the project. Video footage was used at times to capture the sounds and movement of these workplaces, and most of the photographs are accompanied with quotes from the subjects. Focus was put on making the project accessible, as well—rather than the classic gallery setting, the photographs were installed at Vasquez Muffler, 1275 Jerome Avenue, so that subjects and residents could come by to see for themselves.
I think an important part of the process was the fact that all of the photographers involved are Bronx residents themselves, committed to accurate representation and the preservation of the community. Above all, it seems that the project was meant as a way to depict an increasingly rare kind of neighborhood in an honest and humanizing way.