The Lives of Bronx Teenagers, in Photos

Chavi Leon, 14, plays video games with his friends in his living room apartment on Feb. 17, 2016, at the Patterson Projects. (Photo by Sarah Blesener via The Hunts Point Express)

International Center of Photography student Sarah Blesener had originally planned to take a few shots of Mott Haven teenager Chavi Leon, now 15, for a class assignment. But it soon turned into a yearlong project that captured a side of him and five of his friends not often associated with Bronx youths, at least in the mainstream media.

Jenny Pedraza writes in The Hunts Point Express:

Unlike other photo essays of what is like to grow up in the low-income areas of the city, which so often portray troubled teenagers who drop out of school to join gangs, this project captured the universality of boyhood in a place known for being the most at-risk community for youth.

The work challenges and destroys stereotypes associated with youths residing in the South Bronx, shedding a brighter light in the life of teenagers who, like anyone else, have high hopes and aspirations for their future.

“From the beginning I didn’t want the essay to be dramatic, but I wanted to draw attention to how they all have really high hopes and dreams and most times it is really hard to make them happen,” said Blesener.

In addition to using her own photos, Blesser added theirs – she gave the teenagers disposable cameras to take photos of their lives and whatever else gave an idea of their personalities. Not only did their photos mesh well with Blesener’s, the images told their stories from their own point of view.

How did Leon’s parents initially react to the idea of Blesser following them around? Did she eventually come to feel a part of the neighborhood or remain an outsider? After presenting the project back in April, what does she plan to do with the work in the future? Find out, and listen to Leon perform renditions of popular songs in English and Spanish, at The Hunts Point Express.

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