My work in photography, featuring the diverse groups of people that live together in The Bronx, has been a personal journey. Many of the ethnic groups that live together are from central and South America and West Africa, and they reflect the cyclical immigration of different ethnic groups that relocate in the United States.
I also want to create a bridge to fight stereotypes that negate people of color, such as the lack of education and resources, and a lot of the other intense issues that dominate the way the Bronx is perceived by the rest of the country. A lot of the intense issues emanating from The Bronx can be put under the umbrella of “people of color.” The reality of the Bronx is that it is populated by the poor, the working class and people struggling to rise to the middle class. I love the Bronx because it’s still the most “un-gentrified” borough — and because it’s real.
Beauty and survival
The Bronx gave me my sense of creativity. My photography focuses on portraiture and urban landscapes that show the contradictions and complexity between beauty and survival — the reality of life in The Bronx. The themes that I’ve created open your eyes to the beauty of The Bronx. Who gets to be exposed to art? Art should be accessible for everyone, especially for the poor and working people. Art should be not only for the people who can afford to pay to go to MoMA.
’ve found that being a business owner in The Bronx means having to be more creative. The artistic expression and work becomes more politically based. People want to talk about the issues that are happening here. At the end of the day you have to invest in yourself and get others to invest in themselves, as well as in you.
Building a business in The Bronx is different from building a business in other parts of the country. For one, a business owner has to fight the stereotypes about The Bronx — e.g., that there isn’t anything of artistic value here. I’ve lived in other places, but I’ve always returned to The Bronx because there is a level of honesty and realness here that you can’t experience anywhere else.
America in microcosm
The Bronx is a microcosm for America because the people here, and everywhere, need quality education, health care and jobs. The message is to eliminate hate and to embrace people who are different, people of color and the working poor.
Who gets to measure whose lives are important and whose lives are not important? I am them, and they are me. Against all odds, there is so much creativity among people of color. For people who are not inheriting wealth, we need to support each other and to do our own financial backing as much as possible.
Always grind the system and grind hard. Get to know people; most of them are willing to help. I’ve had mentors along the way. The African-American photographer and artist Jamel Shabazz met with me and gave me incredible advice. I admire his work; the people captured in his photos look like the people I know. Another influencer in my life is photojournalist Michael Kamber, who is the founder of the Bronx Documentary Center, a nonprofit gallery and educational space located in the South Bronx that devoted to documentary projects from around the globe. Always keep in mind that real political change happens when people see their true worth.
Rhynna M. Santos is a world-class photographer whose work captures the people and places of The Bronx. She’s the daughter of Latin Music legend Ray Santos, the composer and arranger who won a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. In 2010, two of Rhynna’s photos were chosen in the Photo Espana contest. Last November, Rhynna was one of the photographers selected by Curate NYC, a nonprofit civic venture that provides New York City visual artists with free exposure to curators. A collection of Santos’ work, “Window to the Bronx,” showed in Madrid, during May 2014.