Up in the Bronx Where the People Are Fresh, Kevin Amato Photographed “The Importants”
Photo: Kevin Amato, Mushroom Kids.
The Importants (Phaidon), the second monograph by photographer Kevin Amato, opens with an essay by Alix Browne, in which she claims that the Bronx is “probably the least-loved borough of New York City.”
Record scratch. Say what? The Bronx is a jewel in the crown of New York. It is the birthplace of Hip Hop and the land of kings including Al Pacino, Ralph Lauren, Stanley Kubrick, Tito Puente, and Mark Twain—to name just a few. It’s a curious statement to make in the introduction to a book that is a love letter to latest generation of legendary children from the Bronx.
Kevin Amato, who grew up on Long Island, took up photography after his older brother swiped a Pentax K1000 camera from a house party and put it under the Christmas tree. Amato fell in love and set up a small darkroom in the basement. He took his talents to the streets and got on the scene, photographing for ad campaigns and casting fashion shows for Hood by Air from 2007 to 2014. Feeling the vibe, he moved to the Bronx where the people are fresh—like Kurtis Blow told you, back in ’84, on “AJ Scratch.”
Here he found True York, a world for the better part untouched by gentrification, corporate greed, and the whitewashing of our city that has all but destroyed the indigenous cultures of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Amato describes the Boogie Down as “pure, uninhibited culture, and overlooked. Preserved by generations of culture and family tradition. Timeless and tribal.”
What’s not to love? you might ask. Media representation, benign neglect, and the Nixon and Reagan’s insidious “War on Drugs’ where they set my people up. These manmade plagues tore families apart, putting countless bodies in prisons and in graves. But the Bronx rises, like a phoenix from the ashes and a new generation is a born, a generation Amato titled, “The Importants,” after coming to know the inheritors of this world.
In Amato’s photographs, we see the heirs to the throne. This isn’t 1976—this is now. These are the grandchildren of the generation that invented an art form as only they could, making something out of nothing, and letting the world know you can’t hold us down. Forty years later, ain’t a damn thing changed.
Amato’s photographs show the influence of three generations who came before: Ryan McGinley, Nan Goldin, and Larry Clark. They are self-conscious and self-assured, self-aware and self-absorbed, just as American kids so often are. That they are stylish is simply a matter of birthright: style is not only an expression of self, it’s the code of the streets. You can’t be out ere looking like a herb, or you might get got—especially if you are anything other than the cishetero normative.
Amato understands this, and to Browne he admits, “I don’t know shit about fashion. Fashion is what we make it. The one thing that being in the Bronx has taught me is that people are all the same at the end of the day. We’re unique in our own ways, but regardless of race, social class, sexual orientation, and gender, we all just want to be recognized and respected.”
All photos: © Kevin Amato, courtesy of Phaidon.
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.