Bring back some good or bad memories

September 29, 2014

Black and White Photos of Bronx Boys From the 1970s and 1980s

A 1977 assignment for Look magazine took Stephen Shames to the Bronx, where he began photographing a group of boys coming of age in what was at the time one of the toughest and most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States.

The Bronx boys lived on streets ravaged by poverty, drugs, violence, and gangs in an adolescent "family" they created for protection and companionship. Shames's profound empathy for the boys earned their trust, and over the next two-plus decades, as the crack cocaine epidemic devastated the neighborhood, they allowed him extraordinary access into their lives on the street and in their homes and "crews."

Bronx Boys presents an extended photo essay that chronicles the lives of these kids growing up in the Bronx. Shames captures the brutality of the times—the fights, shootings, arrests, and drug deals—that eventually left many of the young men he photographed dead or in jail.

But he also records the joy and humanity of the Bronx boys, who mature, fall in love, and have children of their own. One young man Shames mentored, Martin Dones, provides riveting details of living in the Bronx and getting caught up in violence and drugs before caring adults helped him turn his life around. Challenging our perceptions of a neighborhood that is too easily dismissed as irredeemable, Bronx Boys shows us that hope can survive on even the meanest streets.

“Pilo Wall.” Teenage boy with toy gun. His son is at left. Two teens kiss, 1985.

Rafael, 13, jumps from one building to the next, eight stories up, 1977.

Teenage boys jump into a public swimming pool at night. They climbed over the fence, 1984.

Teenage couple kisses on steps, 1982.


Two teens wear stocking masks they use to hide their identity when they rob people, Bathgate Avenue, 1982.

Teenage boy with M-16, 1985.


Dealer sells crack in front of a building as moms sit with their babies and children play, 1980s.

Man blows smoke rings next to elementary school age kid in pool hall, 1980.

Poncho and Tony cool off in water from the pump (fire hydrant) on a hot summer night, 1980s.

Two teenage boys wear Mexican hats as they drink inside a social club. Batgate Avenue, 1984.

Teenage boys and adults play dominoes, 1985.

Thirteen-year-old Martin flirts with a girl. Decatur Avenue, 1982.

Martin and Poncho celebrate at a birthday party for a crew member, 1980s.

Delfin, 15, nods out after shooting heroin.

Martin eats ice cream bar as he hangs out with friends, 1982.


Teenage couples kiss on the street corner, 1980s.

Boy sits at table in adult social club, 1980s.


Martin, a teenager, shows his muscles by doing a pushup on the pool table, 1980s.


New York City police stop their car to check out two youths, who are not selling drugs, but who are hanging out on a known drug corner, 1980s.




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