Sponsored by

Coming of Age in the South Bronx

Posted by on August 5, 2016 | Photographer Interviews

For six months, photographer Sarah Blesener spent her free time with a group of six boys from the South Bronx, photographing them in their neighborhood of Mott Haven. Blesener met the boys through the older cousin of one of the boys, Chavier, and she says: “For some reason, Chavier invited me into his world.” She adds: “[The boys and I] had an instant connection, and they allowed me slowly to become a part of their lives.”

Blesener began working with the boys by giving them disposable cameras and journals. She wanted them to be active participants in her work from the beginning, instead of remaining distant and observant. When Blesener is behind the camera for her series “Haven,” she’s able to close the gap between photographer and subject. The work is an engaging and honest look at the boys’ daily lives and the strength of their relationships.

She says of her work: “Mott Haven is one of the most at-risk communities for kids to grow up in, in New York City. But in the midst of a harsh environment, Chavi and his friends found belonging in one another. This bond is a cornerstone that is monumental for all six boys. They rely on each other when their families cannot afford to buy them food, they help each other get back from school, and they offer a second family of support and trust. The aim of my project was to explore this bond, and to shed light on an area of New York that routinely receives negative attention.”

All photos © Sarah Blesener

Juan Neira, Chavi Leon, Marco Vasquez and Edwin Amaro running on an afternoon, free of school, 10 Apr 2016, Mott Haven, Bronx. All four boys attend different schools but live on the same block.


Chavi Leon rests with his two cousins, Jeremy and Jerry Mateo, at their relatives’ house in the Bronx, 6 Feb 2016, New York City. The Leon’s are from the Dominican Republic, but keep strong family connections in New York.


Christopher Oritz (2) calls for his mother across the hallway in the Neira’s apartment, 13 Apr 2016, Mott Haven Houses, Mott Haven, New York. Christopher is autistic, and lives with his mom, grandma, and uncles at the Neira’s.


Juan Neira, Chavi Leon, Marco Vasquez, Edwin Amaro, Cole Jeffers and Jaylen Reid take an afternoon break and head outside to play around the playground in the Patterson projects, 17 Feb 2016, Mott Haven, South Bronx, New York.


Mott Haven, 27 Mar, 2016, New York City. Mott Haven stretches from the Harlem River in the west to Bruckner Expressway to the east.


Marco Vasquez, Edwin Amaro, and Chavier Leon watch as a drunken man yells violently at another woman around the corner, 26 Feb 2016, Mott Haven, South Bronx, New York City.


Chavier Leon, 26 Feb 2016, South Bronx, New York.


Edwin Amaro takes a break from playing Call of Duty, 16 Apr 2016, Mott Haven Houses, South Bronx, New York.


Chavier and his father Frank Leon inside of their apartment, 27 Feb 2016, Patterson Housing Projects, South Bronx, New York. Frank is one of Chavi’s greatest supporters, pushing him to succeed and graduate high school.


Chavier Leon walks past the Patterson Projects, 10 Apr 2016, South Bronx, New York.


Professor Kim Cai directs a practice with students from the High School of Violin and Dance, 12 May 2016, Lehman College, Bronx, New York. Following practice, the students will perform their year-end concert for the public.



Chavi Leon and Scarlett Cruz together after school, 14 April 2016, Mott Haven, New York.


Chavi Leon overlooks the South Bronx, 14 Apr 2016, Mott Haven, New York.