For over two decades (1977-2000), Stephen Shames photographed a group of boys coming of age in the Bronx in a neighborhood ravaged by drugs, violence and gangs. These young men allowed Shames extraordinary access into their lives on the street and in their homes. Shames met the “Bronx boys” as children, and tracked them growing up, falling in love, and having children of their own. His work explores the interplay between good and evil, violence and love, chaos and family. He captures the brutality of the times – the fights, the shootings, the arrests, the drug deals – but also revelatory moments of love and tenderness. FotoEvidence Press published Bronx Boys as a first of its kind photo Ebook. Designed by Jack Lovell of Schwam Lovell, it is a unique art object that will revolutionize the way photographs are distributed and viewed digitally.
“I wanted to publish Bronx Boys because the work respects the dignity of these young people, struggling to find meaning, love and community in the most difficult circumstances,” says Svetlana Bachevanova, publisher, FotoEvidence, “Bronx Boys provides a remarkably intimate story of young people that is touching, tragic, but also hopeful.”
Most of the young men Shames photographed died young or went to jail. A few, including Shames’s two godsons, Martin Dones and Jose “Poncho” Munoz, managed to overcome the challenges of their youth. They are now successful businessmen in their forties who both still call Shames “Dad,” and attribute his mentoring to making a difference in their lives.
In his first person narrative, Martin Dones provides riveting details about growing up in the Bronx in a home of “violence, sex, and drugs” where his mother and her boyfriend drank heavily and fought constantly, and he was left to his own devices. He writes that his first childhood memory is the murder of his cousin who was beaten and thrown off a rooftop to die. Martin is now a supervisor of a food company, on his way to higher management. He is married with four children.
Jose “Poncho” Munoz, who contributes an afterword entitled “My Whole Childhood Photographed,” 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.” Today, Poncho is married with three daughters, and owns a successful business. He still lives in the Bronx.