Photography BFA Student Named Among “Next Generation of Bronx Photographers”
Growing up in the South Bronx, Abigail Montes ‘18B.F.A. was aware that something had happened to her neighborhood before she was born. She saw vacant lots and remnants of burned-out buildings, but didn’t know a lot about the Bronx’s history until she came across Mel Rosenthal’s book of photographs, In the South Bronx of America.
The photographs inspired her to learn more both about her neighborhood’s crisis in the 1970s and its subsequent revival through community activism. They also inspired her to start a photography project of her own, “My Beloved Bronx,” which recently earned her distinction among the “Next Generation of Bronx Photographers,” an exhibit by En Foco, Inc. a non-profit that supports contemporary primarily U.S.-based photographers of African, Asian, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander heritage. The exhibition was originally on view at the historic Andrew Freedman Home from February 24-March 24, 2017, with an opening reception on March 1. Because of its success, however, the exhibition was extended to April 5 and a closing reception was added.
“I wanted to show what makes my Bronx different and what makes it beautiful to me,” said Montes. “I think I have a different perspective as a member of the community myself.”
She intends her collection of black and white photographs featuring the Bronx neighborhoods of Longwood/Foxhurst and Hunt’s Point to celebrate the community activism that helped revive the borough after arson and planned shrinkage in the 1970s, and that continues to combat the effects of gentrification. Said Montes: “I learn from the people I photograph, and I teach them” about the community’s history and the role of activists.
After receiving an A.A.S. degree from LaGuardia Community College and working as a freelance photographer for several years, Montes is now enrolled in SJU’s B.F.A. Photography program. As part of that program, she’ll have the opportunity to study for one year at the International Center of Photography (ICP) starting fall 2017. She welcomes the sense of community at St. John’s and the mentorship from her professors that has allowed her to grow as an artist. “I’m using my time at St. John’s as an opportunity to grow this project and grow as a person,” she said.
"Abigail is an extremely talented and hard-working student who recognizes the significant impact of a long-term project as related to the understanding of culture and community,” said Belenna Lauto, professor and chair of Art and Design. “Her photographic work on Bronx communities is sensitive to the subjects and honors the essence of life and neighborhood. This body of work shows exceptional insight on humanity and the things that really matter in life."
Montes was able to sell one of her photographs to a buyer who attended the En Foco exhibition, which bodes well for her career as a professional photographer. She also hopes to share her knowledge of photography through teaching and community art programs, especially for children aging out of foster care, and will volunteer her time at The Point CDC, an organization dedicated to the development of youth and cultural programs in Hunts Point, from May to August 2017. “Photography is like no other medium,” she said, “because you can take something ordinary and make it look extraordinary.”