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Bronx Boys photo book captures grit of borough

A new digital photo book by acclaimed photographer Stephen Shames strives to capture the spirit of Fordham youth over a 20+ year period.

Published as an Ebook by FotoEvidencePress, Shames’ Bronx Boys includes photographs taken from 1977 to 2000 of young people growing up on and around Decatur Avenue between East 182nd Street and East 189th Street, when drugs, violence and gangs ravaged the community.

The photos depict the harsh street life that was the reality of the late 1970s and 1980s, while following a group of young people. The photos capture tough moments, like fights, shootings, arrests, and drug deals, but also moments of love and tenderness.

“I first came to the Bronx on assignment from Look Magazine in 1977,” Shames said. “I took a picture called ‘Ralph Jumps’ which became my signature picture on the first day that I was there.”

What drew Shames back to the area was the vitality that he saw all around him, which shone through despite poverty.

“What really captivated me about the Bronx and kept me coming back was the energy,” Shames said. “There were a lot of survivors there, and people who prospered in a harsh environment.”

He was gradually able to earn the trust of the young people in the community, and while many died or went to jail, Shames said he is still close to two of the young people he met on Decatur Avenue.

He said he talks with Throggs Neck resident Jose “Poncho” Munoz, and Martin Dones, two of the young men who are chronicled in the book who have gone on to lead successful lives.

“If you spend 20 years photographing a block, the young people will get to know you and they came to me with their problems,” Shames said. “They would ask questions about a girlfriend, homework or something. Many of the kids on the block did not have a lot of people around who they could trust.”

Shames served as a father figure who taught him to drive a car and showed him the value of working for his money, Dones said.

“I feel blessed by the photos that he took today, because I look at them and can remember how poor I was then. Dones said. “To realize how far I have come today is a tremendous feeling.”

Dones, who is now 41, said that Shames helped him on his career path to becoming an operations manager for a $13 billion food distribution company. He often sought out his guidance and advice after meeting him at the age of nine. Dones is now married with four children and lives in Tennessee.

Munoz credited Shames mentoring as one of the things that has made him successful. He has opened his own auto parts business and purchased a home in Throggs Neck, but the book takes him back to his roots, Munoz said.

“This is a great book because it has my whole childhood in it,” Munoz stated. “I can’t ask for anything more.”

The electronic book, which includes a first person narrative by Dones the provides details of what it was like to grow up in the Fordham community in the 1970s and 80s, can be downloaded by visiting It includes 265 pages and 122 photographs, and the cost is $20.

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