Selected as one of the Best Books of 2014 by Vince Aletti
"There’s love among the ruins, and plenty of rough-housing camaraderie, but this is the real hard-knock life in all its gritty detail: drugs, guns, beat-downs. Bruce Davidson’s brilliant East 100th Street (1970) provided an early model for the engaged photographer, but Shames’s work is considerably more kinetic, with an insider’s intimacy that’s closer to Larry Clark, Danny Lyon, and the Luis Buñuel of Los Olvidados. All this is conveyed in a terrific series of black-and-white photographs that, even when they get swallowed up by the gutter, have a remarkable balance of compression and sprawl." — Vince Aletti
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.