My first home was a one room apartment on Bedford Park Boulevard. That was only for a few months. My parents moved when I was six months old to University Avenue. I lived there until I was 13, and the drug epidemic was starting and the neighborhood was, in the vernacular “going bad.” From there we moved to 208th street in the Bronx, the bottom of a private home and I slept in a hallway. My two sisters shared a room at the end of the hall. And then the last move, I was still 13 was to this place, 3511 Putnam Place and we stayed here until the kids were all out and on their own, my mother had died, and my father continued to live here until he was in his 70′s and went to live with the new woman in his life.
The pattern was always the same. The building, the neighborhood, were clean if not downright fancy when we arrived. When we left, the neighborhood had changed. Putnam Place was an absolutely beautiful building when we moved in. That idiotic vent on the left, the gates, the broken balustrade – none of this was there when we lived there. The rooms were huge. There was not only a living room, but a dining room. Two bathrooms. And three large bedrooms. I had my own bedroom which was attached to the bathroom which quickly became my first darkroom.
Why I’m writing this now… It’s an old idea that’s been running around for a long time – the use of photography to try to keep things from disappearing. I spent over a year going back to the Bronx to find places that still had an emotional punch for me, thinking that someday it would be a book. Sometimes, my sisters will call and ask if I would do a favor and go back to some spot to take pictures. I went back to the Bronx this time to take pictures of my sister’s high school.
At any rate, when we lived there – Putnam Place – it was a very safe area. You could go out at night with a camera and not worry about being ripped off. In fact, you could go into a nearby park – we called it The Oval because of the running track – and well it was / is shaped like an oval – and could hang out there with pals at night.
The building was across from Woodlawn Cemetery and this was also a hangout that you could sneak into at night. Cemeteries just weren’t scary. We saw them as a place to have a nice long nap (ha ha).
During my “back to the Bronx” shoot, I spent several days shooting in Woodlawn…
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Time to feed the cat…