Profile | Martine Fougeron: The South Bronx Trades

Photo: Valencia Bakery No. 1: Head Decorator Nancy, 2012. Digital C-print. 33 x 50 inches.

The South Bronx is a world unto itself, a place unlike anywhere else in the world. It has fought its way back from near decimation at the hands of the U.S. government and its racist policy of “benign neglect,” proving that once again that the community holds together when the center falls apart. The South Bronx is not only a community it is the vital heart of active industries and manufacturing enterprises of the Port Morris and Hunts Point neighborhoods as well, showing that small, family-based businesses are alive and thriving in this part of the city.

Also: Exhibit | Bronx:Africa

Photographer Martine Fougeron moved to the South Bronx in 2009. “I’m adventurous,” she reveals. “I needed space near the water. We have with fresh air and a new view of Manhattan. It’s kind of raw, but there are beautiful nineteenth-century buildings and the sky can be seen in 360 degrees. It’s a good, quiet neighborhood.”

Scrap Metal No. 1: Sal’s, 2013. Digital C-print. 20 x 30 inches

Scrap Metal No. 1: Sal’s, 2013. Digital C-print. 20 x 30 inches

As a resident, Fougeron quickly discovered the local industries, some dating back over a century, others recently established. From industrial steel production, scrap metal recycling, auto parts and scaffoldings, to artisanal family trades such as baking, printing, and hand-made bedding, what these trades all have in common is their mastery of the craft itself. In 2011, she began to create The South Bronx Trades, a photographic series which is still in progress today. Here, Fougeron  witness to the people who make the Bronx one of the strongest places on earth. For all the battles its citizens have fought, a new one looms on the horizon, one potentially more devastating than what has come before—if such a thing were possible.

Gentrification. It’s changed the face of New York with dizzying speed. Fougeron observes, “We thought the Bronx could be next after Brooklyn, but we didn’t think it would come so fast. The first ones to be kicked out are the lower-income families, the small businesses, and the artists. Gentrification is coming. There are three towers to be built in the next few two or three years, and there is talk of rezoning the area between Port Morris and Mott Haven. There are small signs already, like a coffee shop opened up a mile away. It’s called ‘Espresso.’”

In this way, Fougeron’s photographs are not only beautifully rendered portraits of a people and a place, but they are also historic documents of a way of life that could easily be erased.

Select Roses No. 1: Flower Man, 2015. Digital C-print. 27 x 40 inches.

Select Roses No. 1: Flower Man, 2015. Digital C-print. 27 x 40 inches.

A selection of the photographs is now on view in Martine Fougeron: The South Bronx Trades at the Bronx Museum of Art through June 26, 2016. The project comprises four parts: portrait, landscape, environment, and abstract photographs. The exhibition includes photographs documenting recent activities near the Hunts Point Food Market: custom-prepping fish, crafting wooden boats, the waste-management industry, and creating green rooftops.

Fougeron’s photographs offer a bright and beautiful counterpoint to the more familiar images of the Bronx, images taken decades ago when the borough had reached it nadir. In contrast to the past, the present is a bright and vital place, one that Fougeron heralds in these incredible images. Her work celebrates every-day people who are committed to their craft. As Fougeron observes, “I have admiration for the trades. As an artist, there is solidarity in that.”

Sims Recycling No. 1: The Point’s Tats Cru Adorned Campus, 2012. Digital C-print. 20 x 30 inches

Sims Recycling No. 1: The Point’s Tats Cru Adorned Campus, 2012. Digital C-print. 20 x 30 inches

All photos: ©Martine Fougeron

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.