Bronx graffiti artist KingBee looks at his street art at the corner of 172nd street and Jerome Avenue and wonders how long it will be there.
“I don’t know,” he says in response to it maybe being knocked down, remarking that there’s “no telling” how long things will last.
A building is decorated with his signature mark of bees up and down Jerome. Others stand as a testament to his art on storefronts and business signs—some from the mid-1980s that are still visible.
Preserving that street art – and the artists responsible – and the neighborhood’s past has taken a new urgency in the wake of the city’s proposed rezoning of 73 blocks along Jerome Avenue from 167th Street to 184th Street, leaving many wondering who would be pushed out of the community they once knew.
Bronx Photo League, a project of the Bronx Documentary Center, has set out to document the changing face of one of the remaining working class neighborhoods in New York City.
“Jerome Avenue felt like a place where all these conversations about gentrification were coming together,” said Michael Kamber, founder and executive director of the Bronx Documentary Center.
“It’s going to change things,” KingBee tells Metro. “This was my stomping grounds.”
“But nothing lasts forever,” he says.
A sliver gelatin darkroom print of KingBee—clad in a respirator mask on that same avenue with his graffiti of a BatBee—was recently displayed in the Jerome Avenue Workers Project right across the street at the New Settlement Community Center.
“We knew we had to do something as photo documentarists,” said photographer Trevon Blondet, a Bronx native.
For Blondet, who grew up seeing KingBee’s graffiti, the street art was synonymous with the Bronx.
“Everything goes back to my childhood,” he told Metro. Along with the other photo displayed, he shot the local Bronx diner, Munch Time, where he sometimes ate during elementary school. The images offer a retrospective for the Bronx native where it all intersected through Jerome Avenue.
During seven months of shooting on Kodak Tri-X negative film with Hasselblad cameras and lenses, 18 photographers captured the Bronx on black-and-white photos.
Echoing in the photo exhibit is the pride that people take in working with their hands.
“The photos are made by hand, the film made my hand, the prints made by hand, we wanted to echo that process,” Kamber said.
One of the first photographs was of a mechanic named Jose from El Salvador.
“He supports a large family though his work, he came to the Bronx, fled the war in El Salvador 30 years ago,” Kamber said. “The Bronx had been his refugee, this story had embodied a lot that was out there and the types of stories we wanted to tell.”
A smaller version of the display, which wrapped up at the Settlement Center during the last week of February, will be shown at the Bronx Arts Space from March 3 to 26. It will then move to Bushwick for April.
“We’re trying to display a lot of the really proud traits and workers in the Bronx, the Bronx is changing quickly, we want to show there are people are here, people raising families, working…who have a lot of pride in their work, we’re trying to promote and display it,” Kamber said.