Professor and curator Maurice Berger highlights the cultural and historical significance behind the photographs by Aarons, Broffman, and Conzo on view at the Bronx Museum. Not only do these photographs "make us aware of the role and power of community," he writes that they also "illuminate the transitions, displacements and complexity of urban life as well as the conventions or biases that color our understanding of it."
Three Photographers from the Bronx showcases the work of Jules Aarons, Morton Broffman, and Joe Conzo—three Bronx-born photographers who captured significant moments of societal and urban change in the borough and across the country during the 20th century. The exhibition features over 80 works, from depictions of daily life in the Bronx and Far Rockaways in the early 1950s, to images of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, to a searing look at Bronx community protests in the early 1980s. Together these works create an exchange across three distinct and intertwined moments—exploring the legacy of community activism and urban change, and launching a dialogue surrounding the challenges the Bronx and similar communities continue to face today.
“We are a museum immersed in a borough with a social history that is often misunderstood or misrepresented,” said Holly Block, Executive Director of The Bronx Museum of the Arts. “Through the work of these photographers, who document critical moments both in the Bronx and across the country, we will offer a new perspective on the history of urban and social change, and inform renewed conversations about the current state of civil rights, the nature of ‘community,’ and the impact of grassroots organizing.”
Three Photographers from the Bronx will feature:
• Street portraits and documentary images by Jules Aarons (1921-2008) providing a glimpse into everyday life in the Bronx in the early 1950s, when the Grand Concourse was known as “the Park Avenue of the working class”
• Works by Morton Broffman (1928-1992) documenting the fight for social equality within the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s—including depictions of the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965, as well as images of Martin Luther King, Jr., at his final sermon at the Washington National Cathedral in 1968
• A politically charged series of photographs by Joe Conzo (b. 1963) depicting the Committee Against Fort Apache—a grassroots movement within the Bronx that challenged the ethnic stereotypes and misrepresentations in the 1981 film Fort Apache, The Bronx
“Jules Aarons, Morton Broffman, and Joe Conzo belong to an illustrious tradition of photographers deeply aware of their moment and surroundings who actively engaged with their communities to present their relative histories, capturing moments of social activism, and inspiring change,” said Sergio Bessa, Director of Curatorial and Education Programs. “With Three Photographers, the Bronx Museum continues its longstanding commitment to create a platform for local artists and artwork that celebrates the rich history and diversity of the borough.”
About Jules Aarons (1921-2008)
Born in the Bronx in 1921, Jules Aarons was both an acclaimed photographer and a Boston University physicist known for his street photography, which documents lively, informal, and emotional urban life—both in the Bronx and across the globe. His work—influenced by photographers Helen Levitt, and Andre Kertez, as well as by contemporary artist Ben Shahn—is currently held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; New York's Museum of Modern Art; and Paris's Bibliotheque Nationale. The Boston Public Library, whose print department has an extensive collection of Aarons’s photographs, held a one-man show of his work in 1999, Into the Streets.
About Morton Broffman (1928-1992)
Morton Broffman was a Washington, D.C.-based photographer whose work was informed by his commitment to civil rights. Born in 1928, Broffman died in 1992 of ALS and left behind a significant archive of images taken while covering the American Civil Rights Movement and the political and social changes of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Broffman was also the principal photographer for The Cathedral Age magazine, published by the Washington National Cathedral. The Broffman archive contains tens of thousands of photos taken during the final 30 years of the construction of the Cathedral. His work draws inspiration from several photographers, including Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smithm and Carl Mydans.
The High Museum of Art in Atlanta acquired a group of 33 vintage Morton Broffman Civil Rights prints for the museum's permanent collection and for inclusion in the exhibition Road to Freedom: Photographs of The Civil Rights Movement 1956-1968. The exhibition was presented at the High Museum, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., The Field Museum, The Skirball Cultural Center, and The Bronx Museum of the Arts.
About Joe Conzo (b. 1963)
Joe Conzo, Jr., is known for his pioneering work documenting the rise of Hip-Hop culture in the 1970s and 80s. Born and raised in the Bronx, he attended the Agnes Russell School on the campus of Columbia University and continued his formal artistic education at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. During his early development, Conzo bore witness to the volatile state of South Bronx community activism, and to New York’s Puerto Rican cultural music scene. As a teenager and close friend of the Cold Crush Brothers, his work quickly took on an important role during the rise of Hip Hop.
Conzo’s work—influenced by Bronx photographer Carlos Ortiz, photojournalist and activist Frank Espada, and fellow hip-hop photographer Jamel Shabaaz—has been featured in Henry Chalfant’s documentary From Mambo to Hip Hop: A South Bronx Tale (2006) and Born In The Bronx: A Visual Record of the Early Days of Hip Hop (2007)—a seminal book on Hip-Hop culture with photographs by Conzo and text by noted New York musicologist and curator Johan Kugelberg. In 2008, the entire collection of images featured in the publication became part of a permanent archive housed at Cornell University. They are regarded as an important lens into the roots of Hip-Hop culture, and as an integral source to understanding the history of the movement.
Three Photographers from the Bronx is made possible by Shelley Fox Aarons and Philip Aarons, Olivia Douglas and David DiDomenico, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and Millennium Partners.