Mel Rosenthal, a product of the South Bronx who left the area to study and teach English literature, returned to the neighborhood during this worrisome period to pursue a second calling in photography. The current show "In the South Bronx of America," titled after Rosenthal's book of the same name, unveils 42 of the images Rosenthal captured while searching the battered streets he grew up on. But rather than focus just on the wreckage of the landscape, Rosenthal commits his attention to the characters valiantly sticking it out in the Bronx: a topcoated man relaxing next to a fan in a bar; young girls leaning back against a fence strewn with weeds; high-socked boys standing atop a mound of debris. As the buildings come down, Rosenthal shows the people keeping on, riding bikes and playing dominoes.
Photograph: Among the Last Residents, Their Playground: Bathgate Avenue and East 173rd Street. Courtesy Museum of the City of New York / Gift of Roberta Perrymapp.
Following city housing commissioner Roger Starr's 1976 call for "planned shrinkage," the South Bronx was hit with a wave of devastation brought on by shrinking property values and the erasure of public services.