“In the South Bronx of America”: 1970s Mel Rosenthal Photos at MCNY Show Another Side of Borough

Life carries on in the War ZonePhoto by Mel Rosenthal/Museum of the City of New York

In the 1970s and 1980s, the South Bronx was slowly brought to ruin by industrialization, trash dumping and arson. But photographer Mel Rosenthal wanted to show another side of the notorious borough. “In the South Bronx of America” is a new exhibit displayed in the Museum of the City of New York, featuring photos taken by Rosenthal. The series of black and white photographs depicts the state of life of everyday people in the South Bronx, which includes the neighborhood of Morrisania where Rosenthal grew up.

St. Athanasia's baseball teamSt. Athanasia’s baseball team. Photo by Mel Rosenthal/Museum of the City of New York.

Unlike many of the photos of the South Bronx during this time, which gives an exploitative glimpse into the area, Rosenthal’s photo series communicates a sense of empathy. He manages to humanize each of his subjects, achieving his goal to “give a public face and voice to those who had been left behind in the area’s evolution.”

After Rosenthal returned from living in Tanzania, he was shocked to find the ruinous state in which the South Bronx was left. Yet in this series, he takes a more personal approach to telling the story of the neighborhoods and the people who inhabit them.

Mother and daughter pause in the ruins, which is still their homPhoto by Mel Rosenthal/Museum of the City of New York. 

The subjects of the photographs range from mothers and daughters and regulars at a local bar, to children simply being children amongst the rubble in their neighborhoods.

Mel Rosenthal in his old bedroom in the South BronxMel Rosenthal in his old bedroom in the South Bronx. Photo by Mel Rosenthal/Museum of the City of New York.

Roberta Perrymapp, who has been married to Rosenthal for over thirty years, was at the museum today with curator Sean Corcoran. “The thing I noticed about Mel’s work is that he is an advocate for people in severe stress,” says Perrymapp. “He photographs people in their power. He shows resilience instead of a bunch of people crying. ”

Among the Last Residents, their playground: Bathgate Avenue andPhoto by Mel Rosenthal/Museum of the City of New York.

The photographs in the exhibit are part of a larger body of work by the same name. Corcoran, the curator of prints and photographs at the museum, describes his choices when putting together the exhibit. “I wanted to show Mel’s relationship to the Bronx,” says Corcoran about the photograph of Mel in his old bedroom. “It sets up that he was part of the community.”

When I looked for her to give her the picture, her building hadPhoto by Mel Rosenthal/Museum of the City of New York.

“In the South Bronx of America” is opened now on the 3rd floor of the Museum of the City of New York from now until October 16, 2016. Get tickets for the exhibit here.

Now, read about Roz Chast Cartoon Memoirs at the Museum of the City of New York. Keep up with the author @jen_bagcal

 Mel Rosenthal, museum of the city of new york, photography

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