It is remarkable what can be created through the lens of a camera by a visionary photographer. Beginning on October 5, 2019 for three months, the Library Claude Lévi-Strauss in Paris is showcasing the photography exhibit “The Bronx-La Villette” by Parisian Italian artist Matteo Pellegrinuzzi.
This exhibition is a portrait of two areas in different parts of the world that share a similar story. Marked by a difficult past, a negative public image, working-class origins and a multicultural population that included large numbers of immigrants, both The Bronx in New York City and La Villette in Paris are today experiencing a deep urban renewal with an enduring spirit found in its residents.
“The Bronx - La Villette” project was conceived five years ago in cooperation with Alexandra Maruri, founder of Bronx Historical Tours in New York. The photographer and Bronx tour guide began a friendship through a chance meeting on social media. As an admirer and follower of Matteo's work on Instagram, Alexandra began chatting with the photographer and would soon become Matteo's tour guide throughout The Bronx during his 2015 visit to The Big Apple.
Conversing throughout the tour, the two realized that there were numerous similarities between The New York City borough of The Bronx and the artist’s Paris neighborhood, La Villette. With a history filled with struggle, neglect, abandonment and disinvestment in the 1980’s, both neighborhoods had come through these hard times as a result of a strong sense of community on the part of their respective humble and proud residents.
As they explored The Bronx together, Alexandra suggested that Matteo consider taking photos for a possible photography collection which paralleled their home neighborhoods in America and in France. Matteo agreed wholeheartedly with his esteemed tour guide, already snapping away and capturing Bronx locals and merchants in their native settings, just being their authentic selves.
Upon returning to Paris, Matteo’s attention would return to work deadlines, taking him several months to focus on the photographs he had taken during his Bronx trip. Looking at the image collection with fresh eyes a few months later, Matteo was intrigued by what he had captured in his simple portraits of the people who call The Bronx home, partaking in their ordinary, everyday lives.
He fancied the collection so much that he decided to embark on a similar endeavor, capturing the people of his own Paris neighborhood of La Villette in their natural surroundings and daily lives, in much the same way. While the two cities were thousands of miles apart, characterized by different cultures, Matteo saw them much the same and wanted to capture his vision in photography to share with others. And with this next step came the birth of The Bronx-La Villette project. According to Alexandra Maruri "One of the main goals of this endeavor was to capture the human side of these communities from two different parts of the world. Both of these neighborhoods faced adversity, challenges and evolution."
Located east of Montmartre, in the 19th District of Paris, La Villette possessed some similarities to The South Bronx, more than three thousand miles away. Interestingly enough, both of these neighborhoods, were situated slightly outside the city proper. The Bronx is an outer borough of world renowned Manhattan, the center of New York City. Likewise, La Villette lies in the outer district of the epicenter of Paris.
These two areas, though technically, part of their main city, have more "neighborhood" qualities of family, local businesses and hometown warmth, even though they are technically recognized as part of a bigger metropolis.
But perhaps the greatest commonality is their respective dark and gray reputation to the world at large as "dangerous" and "unsafe" places. The Bronx has long endured the negative view from the outside as being a bad place, full of undesirables and peril to those who visit. According to Matteo, La Villette suffered in much the same way, being portrayed on the world stage and in the media, as an unsafe area of Paris.
The globalized shadowy, somber and mirky reputations shared and promulgated in the news and by Hollywood has left a lasting impression in people's consciousness about these two neighborhoods, in particular The Bronx. However, Matteo's photography collection captures the humanity and down to earth aspects of the individuals that reside in The Bronx and La Villette.
With his introduction to the South Bronx by Alexandra, Matteo immediately found the similarities to his Parisian neighborhood, La Villette and endeavored to exhibit, in his own words, “the differences and similarities of these two places through my art and give them the dignity that they deserve.”
Born and raised in Italy, Matteo departed his homeland for the city of Paris a decade ago, where he currently resides and is proud to call home. His love of photography started at the tender age of four, taking his first photograph and soon thereafter, the proud owner of his very own camera at age six! Matteo established himself as a professional photographer, first working for news agencies and then moving along to the glamour of fashion photography for such renown publications as Vogue Italy and G.Q. Magazines, respectively.
Speaking about his technique, Matteo says, "For many years my photographic narrative was an interest in people and their relationship with their location showing current realities that could one day be forgotten. The means I employ are the portrait and reportage, often made of silver medium or large format. This allows me to freeze a moment, an emotion, a place, which becomes almost unique.”
During Matteo’s visit to New York in April 2018, I had an opportunity to speak with the artist in detail about his style and photography preferences. He shared with me that, in his opinion, and quite obviously to the trained eyes of a photographer, good, old fashioned film is the best method for optimum photographic aesthetic quality. This is precisely how he shot his photos for The Bronx-La Villette project, all of which are featured in black and white.
With successful exhibitions in Paris and New York, “The Bronx-La Villette” project continues its journey over the next few months in Paris once again, with the exhibition of 90 photographs on display, divided into three parts with a rotation of 30 photos each month.
Singing the praises of Matteo’s photographic creation, Alexandra adds,
“The topics for this project were carefully chosen to showcase the local community, the everyday people who live in The Bronx and La Villette, very dynamic working areas with strong community ties. This is an opportunity to bring transatlantic neighbors together!”
"The Bronx-La Villette" Exhibition Project will return to the Bronx, New York in 2020!
Till next time,
For your reference:
The Bronx-La Villette Project Exhibition
Dates: October 5 to December 31, 2019
Location: Library Claude Lévi-Strauss
41 Avenue de Flandre, 75019 Paris
(Metro Stalingrad or Riquet)
Elisa is a travel blogger and freelance writer. She is co-founder of TravelinCousins.com travel blog and writes a weekly column for ThisIsTheBronx.info.