Jerome Avenue Autoworkers Featured in Photoville Exhibit

Jose, a mechanic, stands diminutive in the shadow of a wall of stacked car tires. Mwanz, a street vendor who sells incense, poses by a flaking wall on Burnside Avenue. Julian of Prestige Mufflers sits outside, his face freckled by the pocks of sunlight piercing the brim of his straw hat.

These are some of the faces of a working class West Bronx community on display under the Brooklyn Bridge this week as part of Photoville, a major annual photography festival that turns old shipping containers into specialized galleries.

Children, hairdressers and religious leaders are also among the subjects of the Jerome Avenue Workers Project, an exhibition that opened in one of the street’s auto shops in October 2015.

“Photoville approached us about the project,” said Michael Kamber, the exhibition’s curator and a contributing photographer. “Brooklyn was an obvious place to bring it. This is an exhibition about gentrification and this neighborhood knows all about that.”

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The project’s third showing comes weeks after the City published draft plans to rezone 73 blocks of Jerome Avenue, a move that would add affordable housing units to the area but would displace traditional auto businesses.

“The exhibition is meant to bring the community together, to understand what it takes to prevent a massive disruption,” added Osaretin Ugiagbe of the Bronx Photo League, the collective that created the project.

The Bronx Photo League is a group of Bronx-based photographers and photojournalists founded by Kamber in 2015. It is run out of the Bronx Documentary Center, an independent photography and film space in Mott Haven that Kamber also founded.

The Jerome Avenue Workers Project is a series of black and white portraits depicting people at work and leisure on Jerome Avenue. They are immediate and yet textured, infused with an almost halcyon timelessness.

“I love how the photographs accentuate the inequalities of the Bronx,” said Kwabena Charles on his way out of the exhibit. “It really shows that there are wonderful, beautiful people in the borough.”

Charles, who works in real estate in Brooklyn, feels that neighborhoods like Jerome Avenue will continue to be ripe for development in the years to come. “Right now the Bronx is the target. Brooklyn is dead,” he said.

Kamber promised that the project would continue to track the workers’ plight as the rezoning moves forward.

“We’re going to follow the workers to see whether they’ll be able to stay in New York or whether they’ll have to move away,” said Kamber. “The City has claimed that around one hundred workers will be displaced. That’s ridiculous. We think it’ll be closer to a thousand.”

Photoville claims to be one of the best-attended photographic events in America. Other exhibitions this year include studies of the Ebola epidemic in Africa and the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. An interactive exhibit on texting in Syria sends real messages to visitors’ phones.

Photoville is open until 10pm in Brooklyn Bridge Plaza. It closes Sunday September 25.