My images reflect the feral vitality and hope of these young men. The interplay between good and evil, violence and love, chaos and family, is the theme, but this is not documentation. There is no story line. There is only a feeling.
For over two decades, Stephen Shames injected himself into the mean streets of the South Bronx and made pictures about the kind of life that he saw there. Unflinching yet intimate, straight-shooting yet sensitive, objectively powerful but also full of personal emotion, the product of this life-long commitment to a neighborhood and its people are bound together and presented in this impressive volume.
Now, the genre of street photography is a well-populated one. And many others have traveled to neighborhoods not their own (whether in a different part of town or different part of the world) to show how the other lives. But what sets apart Shames' volume is the degree of intimacy which he achieved. While there are many, many pictures of vertical figures—posed portraits, roof jumpers, informal group shots on corners, in bars and in backrooms—it is the horizontal figures which best embody the photographer's ability to incorporate himself deep into the inner life of the neighborhood. Mothers lie on beds with their babies, in the universal position of maternal care. Kids sprawl out on uncovered mattresses, trying to grab some rest (three to a bed). A boy lies on his belly in the street, reaching into the gutter (for a lost ball? An errant quarter? Stashed drugs?). Another boy lies sprawled on his back on the sidewalk, felled by a flurry of punches. Two young teens share a crude sexual drawing; one masturbates. Young lovers (many of them still teens, as well) lie coiled in bed together.
These are beautiful pictures, the unique product of dedication, passion, commitment and sensitivity. The feeling that Shames offers in the introduction (quoted above), are evident on every page. Admirable work and highly recommended.
Photos by Stephen Shames. Texts by Martin Dones and José "Poncho" Muñoz
Publisher: University of Texas Press
Hardcover: 224 pages