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Guide to the Mel Rosenthal Photographs, 1975-2008

Abstract

Collection consists of 80 black and white photographs taken by Mel Rosenthal, stemming from two documentary projects. The first documents the destruction by arson of an entire neighborhood in New York, the South Bronx, in the 1970s, with images of burned-out buildings and inhabitants who were forced to abandon their homes. The second project depicts Arab Americans, including men, women and children of Syrian, Egyptian, Moroccan, Algerian, Jordanian and Palestinian descent, living in New York State during the last decade of the 20th century and the early 2000s. Scenes include images of children, professionals, neighborhood life, and the religious lives of Christians, Muslims, Greek Orthodox, Maronites, Jews and Coptics. The images in the Rosenthal collection formed part of two separate exhibits at Duke University, available online. The photographic prints measure 11x14 and 16x20 inches. Also included are a few publicity items for a workshop on documentary photography, and an audiocassette recording of Rosenthal speaking at an exhibit opening in 2004. Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.

Descriptive Summary

Title
Mel Rosenthal photographs
Creator
Rosenthal, Mel, 1940-
Extent
3.0 Linear feet, 84 items
Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Location
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

Collection Overview

Collection consists of 80 black and white photographs taken by Mel Rosenthal, stemming from two documentary projects. The first documents the destruction by arson of an entire neighborhood in New York, the South Bronx, in the 1970s, with images of burned-out buildings and inhabitants who were forced to abandon their homes. The second project depicts the daily lives of Arab Americans, including men, women and children of Syrian, Egyptian, Moroccan, Algerian, Jordanian and Palestinian descent, in New York State during the last decade of the 20th century and the early 2000s. Scenes include images of children, professionals, neighborhood life, and the religious lives of Christians, Muslims, Greek Orthodox, Maronites, Jews and Coptics. The images in the Rosenthal collection formed part of two separate exhibits at Duke University showcasing Rosenthal's work, available online. The photographic prints measure 11x14" and 16x20". The South Bronx matted prints measure either 16x20" or 20x24".

Also included are a few publicity items for a workshop on documentary photography and select exhibitions, and an audiocassette recording of Rosenthal speaking at an exhibit opening in 2004. Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.

Administrative Information

A majority of collections are stored off site and must be requested at least 48 business hours in advance for retrieval. Contact Rubenstein Library staff before visiting. Read More »

warning Access Restrictions

Collection is restricted; any form of duplication requires consent of donor.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48-hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

warning Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Contents of the Collection

In the South Bronx of America Series, 1975-1983, 2004

3 boxes

Comprises 33 black-and-white photographs documenting the destruction in the South Bronx by fire, 1975-1983. Most matted prints measure 16x20" (boxes 1 and 2), but two prints measure 20x24" (box 3). Original captions have been retained as well as narrative comments by photographer; captions supplied by library staff are in brackets.

[Gutted buildings with demolition site in foreground]

I was born and grew up in what is now called the South Bronx. After twenty years away, I returned in 1975, to a neighborhood in ruins. The sturdy well-constructed buildings that had once housed tens of thousands of people were gutted and burned out.

Box 3
Image RL10011-P-001
South of the Cross Bronx Expressway

New York's Department of Housing Preservation and Development may have been competing for the Potemkin Prize last summer [1983], when it announced a plan to mount decals in the broken windows and empty frames of all the hundreds of burnt-out and sealed-up buildings that line the Cross Bronx Expressway. The decals would portray neat drapery, flowerpots, and window boxes, intimations of comfortable and happy domestic scenes. That way, commuters who passed through the Bronx en route to Westchester, Long Island, or the Connecticut executive belt wouldn't have to be upset by the sight of the misery that lines their way.--Marshall Berman. Roots, Ruins, Renewals: City Life After Urbicide, Village Voice, September 4, 1984

Potemkin was a Russian statesman who had an impressive, fake village built along the river bank in preparation for a tour by Catherine the Great. The village consisted of just the facades of houses which were removed after she passed by and then reassembled further down river. Thus as Catherine traveled by, she would see many pleasant villages with happy peasants and think all was well in her kingdom.--Mel Rosenthal

Box 1
Image RL10011-P-002
East on 173rd Street
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-003
Going to church on a Sunday morning
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-004
[Three young African American women in front of burned out buildings]

One of the high school students told me she was going to be a dental assistant. The other two said they wanted to be models.

Box 1
Image RL10011-P-005
Mother and daughter, Claremont Parkway

The South Bronx is certain to be one of the areas hardest hit by the President's [Nixon] decision to impose austerity on domestic programs presumably in order to pay the brutal costs of a senseless war [Vietnam]. Combined with state budgetary restraints the outlook is bleak, for the South Bronx is dependent on public resources, not just for the quality of life, but for life itself.--Mayor John Lindsay, New York Times, January 18, 1973

We should not encourage people to stay where their job possibilities are becoming daily more remote...Our urban system is based on the theory of taking the peasant and turning him into an industrial worker. Now there are no industrial jobs. Why not keep him a peasant?--Roger Starr, Real Estate Weekly, February 9, 1976

It can only be compared to war, what happened here, and we lost that war.--Father Louis Gigante, Associated Press, October 5, 1977

Box 1
Image RL10011-P-006
Bathgate Avenue
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-007
Sisters on Bathgate Avenue
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-008
Mother and daughter, East 173rd Street
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-009
[Group portrait of African American churchgoers, standing in front of the church]

The African American churches, many of which had been synagogues, were a bulwark against the encroaching disintegration.

Box 1
Image RL10011-P-10
[Two young boys playing baseball in the street]

The kids played baseball using the parking meter as second base. The runner was safe.

Box 1
Image RL10011-P-11
The daily domino game in front of the Social Club
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-12
[Man with bayonet]

He said, "Want a ghetto shot? I'll give you a ghetto shot!" And he drew a bayonet from under his jacket.

Box 1
Image RL10011-P-13
[Young man crouching on roof top with dog]

It was the day that the last building on Bathgate Avenue was being sealed up before demolition. The city marshals were evicting all the remaining families. Nelson's family was being sent to an apartment where no dogs were allowed. He knew that if the dog ended up in the pound, he'd be "put away." We couldn't find a home for the dog. Many of the people who were being evicted were supposed to go to a "welfare hotel." There were no other options. People were scared and depressed.

Box 1
Image RL10011-P-14
South Bronx site of the 1980 "People's Convention" in opposition to the Democratic Party's nominating convention downtown
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-15
On Bathgate Avenue where the fire hydrant functioned as the community's well

Your business will have room to grow in the Bronx. You don't have to worry about spiraling rents, lack of space, congested streets, parking shortages, and a host of other problems that plague expanding businesses elsewhere. The Bronx has prime real estate that is affordable. No inflated prices like Westchester, New Jersey, or Long Island. The City of New York is planning to sell prime parcels of real estate for retail, light manufacturing, office and industrial development. These are properties which the city has held from sale until the market was right. Now the market is right. You can own real estate in thriving, busy commercial centers, industrial enclaves, and growing residential areas.-- The Bronx: Business's Best Kept Secret, Published by the Bronx Marketing Project, NYC Department of General Services, 1985

Box 1
Image RL10011-P-16
[Naked doll in foreground of a demolished lot, a burned out building in background]

The last building left standing in the neighborhood was on the East 173rd through 174th Street block. A few days after this picture was made, the building was bulldozed and the people who lived there were sent to shelters and single room occupancy hotels.

Box 1
Image RL10011-P-17
[African American woman in white dress, striking a pose in the street]

When I looked for her to give her the picture, her building had burned and she had moved.

Box 3
Image RL10011-P-18
[Brick building with three billboards]
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-19
Paulina and her dog, Bathgate Avenue
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-20
[Pregnant African American woman at obstetrician's, listening to baby's heartbeat]
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-21
[Aerial shot of South Bronx streets]
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-22
[Man who left the neighborhood years ago, but came back for drinks every Friday evening]
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-23
[Mikey at the bar, next to Rosenthal's photographs]
Box 1
Image RL10011-P-24
[A close up of an adult African American man and two young men, seated in alley]
Box 2
Image RL10011-P-25
[Girl running in street, in front of demolished building, covering her mouth]
Box 2
Image RL10011-P-26
[Teenage boy walking out of a burned out building with a bicycle]
Box 2
Image RL10011-P-27
St. Athanasia's baseball team
Box 2
Image RL10011-P-28
[Boy in front of demolished building, hands in the pocket of jacket]
Box 2
Image RL10011-P-29
[Boy in front of demolished building, hands in the pocket of jacket]

Duplicate of image 29, but this print is signed by Rosenthal.

Box 2
Image RL10011-P-30
[Father and daughter in living room, girl standing in front of television, dad in armchair]
Box 2
Image RL10011-P-31
Fourth of July, hanging out on the stoop of their apartment house
Box 2
Image RL10011-P-32
Mel Rosenthal in his old bedroom in the South Bronx
Box 2
Image RL10011-P-33

Arab-Americans: Americans by Choice Series, 2000-2002

(2 boxes)

Contains 46 photographs, 25 16x20" (with one 11x14") gelatin silver prints (box 4) and 21 11x14" gelatin silver prints (box 5), that were part of the exhibit Arab-Americans: American By Choice. The images document the daily lives of Arabic-speaking Americans, many of whom were in New York State at the time the shots were taken. The individuals portrayed include men, women, and children of Syrian, Egyptian, Moroccan, Algerian, Jordanian and Palestinian descent. Scenes include the religious life of Christians, Muslims, Greek Orthodox, Maronites, Jews and Coptics.

Halal food stand in lower Manhattan, NY, 2001

Ahmed was from Alexandria, Egypt. He decided to go back to Egypt in September of 2002 to get married. His friends, including the man who bought his cart, thought that he would not be able to get a visa to come back to the United States. They were correct and as one said, Another man lost.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-34
B&B Electronics store owner showing photographs of himself and his daughter in East Jerusalem

One of the reasons he left Jerusalem was because of the 1967 war. He told me that he believed that the war between the Israelis and the Arabs would never end. He is holding a photo of him holding his baby daughter. Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1998.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-35
Roller blading Palestinian teenager

She is the daughter of Essa (see image 35) who is holding her (as a baby) before the family left East Jerusalem

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-36
Astroland Amusement Park, Coney Island, N.Y., 1999

Men observe the call to prayer, March 27, 1999. The occasion is Eid al-Fitr the three-day Festival of Fast-Breaking at the end of Ramadan.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-37
Eid al Fitr, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 2000

Men observe the call to prayer, 2001. The occasion is Eid al-Fitr the three-day Festival of Fast-Breaking at the end of Ramadan.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-38
Moroccan Jews celebrating Chanukah at the Manhattan Sephardic Center, N.Y., 2001

I showed the Rabbi a letter of introduction from the Museum of the City of New York which said that they had commissioned me to photograph for them an exhibition about Arab American life in New York. They told me that I was in the wrong place because they were not Arabs. They insisted that they were Sephardic and should be called that. I pointed out to them that they spoke Arabic and were from a country which spoke Arabic and therefore could be considered Arabs. They weren't convinced, but it turned out that they did not have the tenth Jewish man that makes a ritual possible in the Jewish religion and there I was, the tenth man. So I got to celebrate Chanukah and to photograph them also. Later because so many people took umbrage to being called an Arab I changed the letter to say that I was photographing Arabic speaking people and thus avoided problems. As with the case of many of the Christian Arabic speaking people, many seem to equate "Arab" with being Muslim and they did not want to be associated with that identification. September 11th made that even more pronounced.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-39
Moroccan and Algerian Muslims at a community mosque in a tent at Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, N.Y., 2002
Box 4
Image RL10011-P-40
Woman, child and icon, Church of the Virgin Mary, Palm Sunday, Brooklyn, 2001

The Church in Park Slope is a Greek-Melkite Catholic Church and the icon is St. Theodora. The people at the Church when I spoke to them about why I was photographing there they like the told me that they were not Arabs and were annoyed that I called them that. I asked them what they called themselves and they said they were Phoenicians. Having learned from the Moroccans, I said it was fine, and that this was a project about Arabic speaking people. I looked up Phoenicia in an Encyclopedia and they had a drawing of where Phoenicia had been and it was what now is Syria and Lebanon.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-41
Midday prayers at the Al Noor School, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, N.Y., 2001

The school has students whose parents come from all of the countries in the world with Muslim populations. The students are segregated by gender and most of the curriculum is in Arabic since that is the language of the Koran. Boys and girls are forbidden to speak to each other. If they do the boy is chastised, but the girl may be put on probation or expelled. When I was photographing there the text being studied in the English class was Exodus, by Leon Uris.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-42
Girls playing basketball in the schoolyard of the Al Noor School, 2002
Box 4
Image RL10011-P-43
Young Syrian American girl who goes to the local public school in Brooklyn Heights

I was told by one of the teachers that the school has many students who come from Arabic speaking countries. Muslims, Christians, Jews and people who profess no particular religion all coexist well there.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-44
Young Syrian American girl who goes to the local public school in Brooklyn Heights

A 11x14" duplicate of RL10011-P-44.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-45
Sizing a Palestinian wedding dress, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1998

A fitting at Four Golden Needles, a dress shop in Bay Ridge Brooklyn which was created and owned by four Palestinian women. The woman trying on the dress is from Lebanon and the dressmaker is from Egypt. The material was designed on the computer and then printed out on the textile machine in the background. The dress was shipped to a woman getting married in Chicago.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-46
Bride, groom and the groom's mother at the wedding in Widdi's Catering Hall, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1999

Celebrating the wedding of Sandra Hajjaj and Komenby Kharoufeh. The groom's mother is trying to keep the playing children from colliding with the cake.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-47
Palestinian American Women at a wedding in Widdi's Catering Hall, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1999

Widdi's is known throughout the Arab American community as the place to have your party after Ramadan, your wedding, your confirmation party, your fund raising party, or your political meeting of the community. Gold coins are traditional wedding presents which are pinned to the bride's dress at the marriage ceremony. It is common for the women to wear strings of gold coins minted in the Mid-East around their heads and their waists on special occasions such as this wedding. One man when I asked about it said that we don't trust banks.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-48
A relative of the groom dancing at the wedding in Widdi's Catering Hall, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY, 1999

He is the spitting image of one my cousins when we were younger. As I looked around the room filled with Palestinians it struck me that many of the people there looked like my own relatives and I thought how come they can't see it. They are from the same family. When will they see it. When will the killings stop!

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-49
Astroland Amusement Park, Coney Island, NY, 1999

I liked this photograph, but it was not in the exhibition of my work, because the museum directors thought it inflammatory. I thought they were being overly cautious, but it was soon after the attack on the towers and many people were upset and so I lost the argument.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-50
Ecumenical Peace March of Christians, Moslems and Jews, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn Sept. 26, 2001

Over a thousand Christians, Muslims, and Jewish Arab Americans made clear their desire for peace and their hatred for violence. Unfortunately, though the Churches, Mosques and Synagogues sent out many press releases, none of the press came to report about this event.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-51
Peace vigil on the Esplanade, Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., Sept 16, 2001

Debbie Almontaser, an educator and activist, carried a photograph of her son wherever she went. He was in the National Guard patrolling the area around Ground Zero and couldn't go to the Peace Vigil, September 16, 2001. After September 11th a number of people in Brooklyn Heights called her names and tried to get her to take off her hijab. She started to carry the photograph of her son who had been called up to the National Guard on September 11th. She told the people that were harassing her that he was in the National Guard patrolling the area around Ground Zero and that she was as patriotic as they were. She told me that the harassment was so bad that teachers at the public school where she worked had to escort her to school and back. Shortly after, she resigned from teaching there.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-52
Muhaideen Batah and Yosef Thalen in Brooklyn, N.Y., 1999

Muhaideen (with camera) was one of my students who became one of my friends. He received his Bachelors Degree from the State University of New York/Empire State College. He was a photography major who was a carpenter years ago in Nazareth, and is now is a successful photographer and lecturer on Palestinian and Islamic issues and lives in Vermont. Yosef, lived in Jerusalem and Jordan most of the time and made a living by coming to Brooklyn and selling tiny Korans on the streets and in the mosques. When he was in Brooklyn he slept in one of the Mosques. He died in 2004.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-53
Palestinian woman (older) with candle at peace vigil

There was a march of more than a thousand people of all denominations against violence in Brooklyn Heights. The press did not carry it to any extent.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-54
Josef Thalen

He said he was saluting the King of Jordan.

Box 4
Image RL10011-P-55
Her brother was still missing, Peace March, September 26, 2001
Box 4
Image RL10011-P-56
Patriarch looking at a photograph of a woman who is searching for her brother who has probably been killed by the attack on the twin towers
Box 4
Image RL10011-P-57
Iraqi Woman student at an English as a Second Language Class, Utica, N.Y.
Box 4
Image RL10011-P-58
[Dr. Alrawi, an Iraqi OB/GYN doctor, has a "wellness" practice for women in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn]

Her pregnant patient is from Aden, 2004.

Box 5
Image RL10011-P-59
Carrying a Greek orthodox cross at the march against violence and terrorism on Bay Ridge Blvd.
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-60
Doha working in the pastry bakery "The International Gourmet Delight" that she and her husband own
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-61
Essa with his children in their store where I met him by accident when I needed to buy lithium batteries

Mr. Widdi told me he was mayor of the Palestinians.

Box 5
Image RL10011-P-62
Charles Sahadi at one of his delicatessen and grocery stores

It is known for its Mid-Eastern fine foods.

Box 5
Image RL10011-P-63
Wafta Shama teaching embroidery at the Museum of the City of New York, December, 2001
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-64
[The wedding of Sandra Hajjaj and Komenby Kharoufeh at Widdi's Catering Hall, Brooklyn, August 22, 1999]

The gold coins are traditional wedding presents which are pinned to the wife's gown. The groom's mother is keeping playing children from colliding with the cake.

Box 5
Image RL10011-P-65
[Family at the wedding of Sandra Hajjaj and Komenby Kharoufeh at Widdi's Catering hall, Brooklyn, August 22, 1999]
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-66
At the end of the wedding reception

The gold coins are traditional wedding presents which are pinned to the wife's gown. The groom's mother is keeping playing children from colliding with the cake.

Box 5
Image RL10011-P-67
Young girl lighting candle, Palm Sunday, 2001, in St. Mary's Orthodox church, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-68
Holy Communion, St Mary's Orthodox Church, Palm Sunday, 2001
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-69
Teaching the Koran in a small mosque in Albany, N.Y.
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-70
Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Our Lady of Lebanon Antiochian Syriac Maronite Church, Brooklyn, March 11, 2001
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-71
Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Our Lady of Lebanon Antiochian Syriac Maronite Church, Brooklyn, March 11, 2001
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-72
Coptic Church of St. George
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-73
[Coptic church]
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-74
Holy Communion at the Coptic Church of St. George, 2006, Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-75
Coptic Church of St George, women in front of icon of St Michael
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-76
[Policeman]
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-77
"Iraqi moms love their kids too"

Two Iraqi women sit on steps at a protest.

Box 5
Image RL10011-P-78
["Violence begets violence"]

Young girl holds up sign at protest.

Box 5
Image RL10011-P-79
[Young man playing stringed instrument]
Box 5
Image RL10011-P-80

Papers Series, 2000-2008

(1 box)

Papers in the collection include an audiocassette of Rosenthal's talk at Duke University on October 7, 2004, at the opening of the exhibit Mel Rosenthal: Photographs from "In the South Bronx of America," as well as a brochure for the exhibit and an advertisement for a New York workshop Empire State College: Documentary Photography in New York City. Exhibit pamphlets from Refuge: The Newest New Yorkers and Arab Americans: Americans by Choice are also included.

[Original audiovisual materials are closed to use. Use of these materials may require production of listening or viewing copies. Please contact a reference archivist before coming to use this collection.]

"Refuge: The Newest New Yorkers," exhibit pamphlet at Empire State College, 2000
(2 pamphlets)
Box 6
Audiocassette of exhibit talk, 2004 Oct. 7

[Original audiovisual materials are closed to use. Use of these materials require production of listening or viewing copies. Please contact a reference archivist before coming to use this collection.]

Box 6
Publicity for Empire State documentary photography workshop, 2004
(2 pamphlets)
Box 6
"Arab Americans: Americans by Choice," exhibit pamphlet, 2008
Box 6

Historical Note

Mel Rosenthal was a documentary photographer based in New York City and director of photographic programs at SUNY-Empire State.

Subject Headings

Related Material

  • Culturefront (serial) (Rubenstein Library, Duke University)

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Mel Rosenthal Photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Provenance

Purchase, 2004 and 2008.

Processing Information

Processed by Joanne Fairhurst, January 2013.

Accession(s) described in this finding aid: 2004-0150, 2004-0339, 2004-0340, 2008-0092, and 2012-0070.