The Alexander Avenue Project is a collaboration between portrait artist R. Douglass Rice and photographer David Katzenstein. These artists have been friends and collaborators for over 20 years, and this is their current project about the people who make up the livelihood of one block on Alexander Avenue in the South Bronx. The artists spent two days on block where Doug Rice’s studio is located, meeting and photographing the neighborhood regulars.
The initial concept was for Katzenstein to create 10 portraits of individuals who inhabited the block and then Rice would use these images as inspiration in his painting process. Upon completion the artists returned to their subjects to share with them the their creations.
Jane Addams Vocational High School, according to recent statistics, has a student body of 1,279 members, of which 97.9% are minorities; 81% to 90% are from households that receive public assistance; and only 52% graduate. A decade ago, the school was awarded a small grant that allowed it to stage “Grease,” its first musical and one that was relevant to the teenagers involved. The director asked David Katzenstein to document the production, and 23 of his color portraits of cast members are on display, as well as 11 portraits he took when the cast was reassembled in 2012. The before and after pictures are the most interesting, revealing the changes made by time.
Happily, from what one can tell looking at their pictures, the cast members who returned are doing well. Raymond seems more relaxed, cheerier. Samuel matured considerably. Channon is wearing the same gold cross, but her outfit is more sophisticated. Ibrahim now has tattoos on his forearms, Michael took off his do-rag and Tanisha took off her glasses, although she has the same sweet smile before and after. One wonders about those who did not return.
—Mr. Meyers writes on photography for the Journal. See his work at williammeyersphotography.com.
The museum’s collection includes works by Vito Acconci, and by Ero (Dominique Philbert), a graffiti artist from the Bronx. A current photography show pairs David Katzenstein’s portraits of students from a Bronx high school, striking a pose in 2003, and then the same people in the same pose nine years later. Also on display are Mr. Katzenstein’s photographs of Valerie Capers, a jazz musician and educator from the neighborhood.