A new photo exhibit on display in a Bronx muffler shop highlights the small businesses and owners that make up the Jerome Avenue corridor in the South Bronx, and aims to tell their stories as fears of rezoning and gentrification sweep the neighborhood.
“You want to do it where the people are, the people shouldn’t have to go to SoHo or Chelsea,” said Michael Kamber, a photojournalist who who founded the Bronx Documentary Center in 2011. “It’s very discussion-based, this is not abstract art that we’re putting on the wall, this is about discussions within the community. We’re interested in the culture of workers, so we thought let’s do it where the workers are.”
They found the perfect space — a wall long enough to hang 40 photos inside Vasquez Muffler on Jerome Avenue at East 169th St.
While Kamber the said the show is trying to stay “somewhat neutral on the politics,” photographers highlight what they fear the Jerome Avenue corridor would lose to rezoning.
“I think the show is more about what is going to happen in the Bronx,” said Jesus Emmanuel, one of the Bronx Photo League photographers featured in the 40-photo exhibit that captures scenes in beauty salons, tire shops, 99 cent stores and churches.
“The people I’ve been I’ve been interviewing — even the people who are not workers, and are just walking around the street, they don’t know what’s going to happen. The owners are worried, because they recently invested in the business, they really worry about that. Workers are thinking, 'oh I might not have a job, or I need to move somewhere else.'"
The city is studying a 73-block area, which includes the Jerome Avenue corridor, as a potential area for rezoning. A draft of the plan is expected this fall, with a proposal up for public review as early as next summer, according to the NYC Planning website.
"We have not yet even come out with recommendations, we’ll be going back and forth for quite a number of months," spokeswoman Rachaele Raynoff said.
"Our mission is to help New Yorkers afford to stay in the city and they neighborhoods they call home," mayor's office spokesman Wiley Norvell said in response to the show. "And as we build more affordable housing and protect the affordable housing that exists in places like Jerome Avenue, we'll work to provide local businesses with the tools and support they need to thrive."
Ruben Vasquez, who has owned the muffler shop with his brother, Roberto, for the past 23 years, said he thinks the show is nice for the community, and is happy his shop is highlighting the Jerome Avenue workers.
“I don’t want to move anywhere, I don’t where I would put my shop,” Vasquez said. “The neighborhood has changed, it used to be a lot of empty yards, it’s good for the neighborhood, but it’s not good if people have to move after a lot of years in the neighborhood.”
The Bronx Photo League started working on the show in June, meeting their subjects and developing the film in the Bronx Documentary Center’s darkroom. The photos were shot with Kodak Tri-X negative film with Hasselblad cameras and lenses.
The Jerome Avenue Workers Project is on view Oct. 3-18, 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-2p.m. on Sunday at Vasquez Muffler, 1275 Jerome Ave. More information on the show and artists is at http://bronxdoc.org.