A 1977 assignment for Look magazine took award-winning photographer Stephen Shames to the Bronx, where he began photographing a group of boys coming of age in what was at the time one of the toughest and poorest neighborhoods in the United States. The Bronx boys lived on streets ravaged by poverty, drugs, violence, and gangs. They bonded together and raised themselves in "crews," adolescent families they created for protection and companionship. Shames's empathy for the boys earned their trust and respect, and over the next two decades, as the crack cocaine epidemic devastated the neighborhood, they allowed him extraordinary access into their lives on the street and in their homes.
(University of Texas Press, October 15, 2014) presents a collection of 123 powerful duotone photographs made by Stephen Shames from 1977-2000 that chronicle the lives of these kids growing up in the Bronx. Shames captures the brutality of the times -- the fights, shootings, arrests, and drug deals -- that eventually left many of the young men dead or in jail. But he also records the joy and humanity of the Bronx boys, as they mature, fall in love, and have children of their own. Challenging our perceptions of a neighborhood that at the time these photographs were made was too easily dismissed by some as irredeemable, Bronx Boys shows us that hope and redemption is possible everywhere.
Accompanying Shames's images is a riveting first person narrative by Bronx boy Martin Dones. In his account of his first childhood memory -- the murder of his cousin, Dones writes: "I didn't actually see him being murdered, but I heard the thud of his body hitting the pavement .... Thud! I jump awake, startled, and everybody is screaming."
Martin Dones and José "Poncho" Muñoz, who contributes the book's afterword, are among the fortunate Bronx boys who were able to overcome the challenges of their youth. Today they are successful businessmen, married with grown children. Dones is an executive at a national food company. Muñoz owns his own business and still lives in the Bronx. They attribute Shames's mentoring to making a difference in their lives. Muñoz writes: "Steve was always pushing me go to school. I wanted to go, but I was not focused. Steve was still there for me. I told Steve all the time 'thank you for being the actual guy.'"
Bronx Boys was originally published as a digital photo monograph and e-book by FotoEvidence Press.
Shames photographs from Bronx Boys are currently featured in a 1,000-foot group photography exhibition entitled "The Fence" on view through October, 2014 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 5. "The Fence," which returns to Brooklyn for a third year to coincide with the Photoville photography festival, showcases the work of photographers who capture the essence of "community."
Stephen Shames is author of seven previous books, including Outside the Dream: Child Poverty in America, which won the Kodak Crystal Eagle Award for Impact in Photojournalism, and The Black Panthers, both published by Aperture. A new and expanded Black Panthers book, co-authored by Bobby Seale, is being published by Abrams in 2016 coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Party.
Shames's images are in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery; International Center of Photography; Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture; The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley; The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; San Jose Art Museum; Philadelphia Museum of Art; National Civil Rights Museum; The Ford Foundation; Baruch College; Oakland Museum; University Art Museum, Berkeley; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Elton John Foundation; Honickman Foundation; Vancouver Art Gallery; and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
His work has been exhibited at venues worldwide, including San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Pingyao Photo Festival, China; Tate Modern, London; Open Society Institute; Prague House of Photography; International Center of Photography; Visa Pour L'Image, Perpignan, France; Steven Kasher Gallery, New York; George Eastman House; Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego; Aperture Gallery, New York; Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University; Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; University of the Arts, Philadelphia; Los Angeles County Museum; and The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Select awards received include: Kodak Crystal Eagle, Pollie, World Hunger Year, World Press, Leica Medal of Excellence, Luis Valtuña Humanitarian, International Center of Photography (Special Recognition), Robert F. Kennedy Journalism (2nd & 3rd), New York Art Director's Club (Gold), Communication Arts, Society of Newspaper Design.
Shames has been profiled by People magazine, CNN, CBS Sunday Morning, Esquire, US News, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and Photo District News.
Stephen Shames is represented by Steven Kasher Gallery in New York. He lives in Brooklyn.