Bronx photographer and cinematographer, Edwin Pagan, shared his perspective on the Bronx through his lens.
Pagan started his career early in life when participating in an organization called, ” The Boys Club.” Though he did not desire to learn how to work the camera, Pagan walked out with an experience of a lifetime…one that gave him the key would open up many doors of opportunities down the line. ” [Learning] photography not only allowed me to see, but to understand everything going on around me,” said Pagan. During the program, Pagan was encouraged to donate his photography works back to the organization which gave him the desire to give back to his community. When he grew older, Pagan provided technical assistance to the Bronx Council of the Arts and became the Program Manager at the Bronx Filmmaker Foundation.
Part of our discussion touched on the reputation of the Bronx. As Bronx residents, we know that the best musicians, artists and dancers emerged from the 42-square-mile cocoon. We also know that some of the kindest and hard-working individuals are from the extraordinary borough. However, these successes get overshadowed because of the negative stigmas and statistics that follow the Bronx. It is part of the reason the Bronx seems to be left in the dark across the other boroughs in the New York City, other cities and around the world. “I’ve always seen the Bronx as the people and the community neighborhoods that get left behind,” said Pagan. “But the people in the South Bronx are really resilient.” We agree that the people who live in the Bronx are strong and will remain prideful. “We still raise our children, we still smile, we still look forward to a future where we dictate our own terms.”
As the Bronx burned during the 70’s and 80’s, a creative enclave emerged. ” Look what happened South Bronx during 70’s and 80’s when we were in that pressure cooker…we got rap, we got Salsa, these are musical genre that have gone around the world,” said Pagan. As the conversation continued, Pagan brought up an example of a young Alaskan Indigenous rapper who was honored to step foot on the stage at Pregones Theater in the South Bronx. Her enthusiasm is an example of how far Bronx culture goes.
Pagan also shared another insightful story as it pertains to gentrification. One night, celebrities were brought on buses to a location that was deemed for two high rise buildings in the Port Morris area. When the stars arrived, they were greeted by props…gasoline powered fires and used cars punctured with bullet holes. It was a “Burning Bronx” theme. ” The tried to take the trauma we suffered in those days and watered it down to something that is hot and cool so that they can attract celebrities and people with higher incomes so they can think about the future of the Port Morris area,” said Pagan.
“It was like putting salt in the wound of the South Bronx.”
A second event took place and this time the purpose was to sell art. ” Only one of those artists had a connection to the South Bronx.” As a result…Bronx residents protested. “There was a counter party in front of Wallworks, a gallery near Bruckner Boulevard.” A total of 340 artists were in attendance with artwork in hand for the duration of the day.
The construction of new buildings and the destruction of a cultured community started to unfold and so hashtags such as #whatpianodistrict and #nobronxjails started to emerge. ” The Bronx has a certain bop that defines who we are, ” said Pagan. ” We’re sarcastic, we push back, we’re fun, and we’ll give you the last piece of meat on our plate.” Gentrification is inevitable and new developments are being brought up daily…however, the uniqueness of Bronx culture is was residents hope remain untouched. ” We’re not saying people can’t come to the South Bronx, we want nice things too…but we want to be part of the equation,” said Pagan. ” We want our families to grow here and flourish here. Find out what’s going on here and add on, don’t change.”
Edwin Pagan has made it easier for Bronx residents and visitors to see exactly what is happening in the Bronx. In March of 2018, Pagan launched South Bronx by South Bronx, an initiative that showcases Bronx housing, dining, culture, services and much more.
Find out more about the extraordinary Edwin Pagan on his platform : @paganimages.