It was the 1970s. Inner cities all over the United States were disintegrating and no one could agree about what was happening. One of the worst hit areas was the South Bronx which was being burnt down at a staggering rate. During this period Mel Rosenthal worked in an area of the Bronx targeted by city officials to become an enterprise zone, an area where factories would be built and their owners given special tax privileges. It has now become clear that it was with these officials' tacit consent that the arsonists' torches were allowed to do work usually performed by bulldozers and wrecking crews--and at a fraction of the financial cost. The human price was painfully high. When Rosenthal began to document this tragedy, he discovered that the people who lived in the area where he worked faced the dual epidemics of fire and disease, epidemics that were slowly but surely destroying their homes and their community.
Rosenthal also discovered that the people in the neighborhood did not have pictures of themselves that did justice to their spirit and courage. Wanting to be one of the custodians of the neighborhood's memory, Rosenthal began to make portraits of everyone who still lived in the area of Bathgate Avenue. He made pictures which he hoped would show both the tragedy and heroism of their daily lives. Later he collected newspaper clippings that gave the "official story" of what was happening. He also collected the words of the people who lived and worked in that area and which often belied that "official story."
Text from the jacket cover of In the South Bronx of America
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