Posted on 20. Feb, 2010
Photographer Ricky Flores remembers bad times and good
By Peter A. Jackson
Ricky Flores’ friends call him the “Jimmy Olsen Guy” because, like Superman’s sidekick, he always has a camera in his hands.
Flores left Longwood in the early 1990s, moving from his family’s apartment on Fox Street, first to the Grand Concourse and then to northern Westchester. Recently, however, he’s been revisiting his old neighborhood by reviewing thousands of photographs he took between 1982 and 1991.
The photos record not only the devastation of the South Bronx, but also the exuberance that helped residents to cope with those calamitous times.
Times were tough, Flores remembers. “People don’t realize how difficult it was, how barbaric, how marginalized our existence was.”
Yet he and his friends rejected the stereotypes that outsiders imposed on the people who lived in the South Bronx. “One of the things we always struggled with was our vision of who people thought we were, living in that community, as opposed to who we actually were,” he recalls.
He tells a story that illustrates this double vision. Abandoned cars were just left to on neighborhood streets. “Our block, our home was being turned into a dumping ground and the city just didn’t care.”
So Flores and his pals took matters into their own hands. From Longwood Avenue to Southern Boulevard, the pushed the cars into the middle of the street and turned them over.
“They may have called us hooligans, typical Puerto Rican trash, tearing up our block and making it worse for those that lived there. Maybe they might be correct in their assumptions,” he writes, “but to us, on that one summer night we decided that we were going to make the city clean it up.”
Visiting Hunts Point today, he sees a different place. “I look at stuff differently now that I am older. Tiffany Plaza is now a gated community. It’s now like Fort Knox,” he said.
Photography became Flores’ passion in 1978, when he came into a small inheritance from his father, who had died in 1965. He used it to purchase a camera and set out to learn the art of photography, learning to hone his craft and develop his eye primarily by taking shots of friends and family.
The local Police Athletic League (PAL) and Boy Scout Troop on Longwood Avenue nurtured his interest and talent.
The kids in the community hung out at the PAL, Flores recalls. For him and his friends the community center was always a part of their lives, he says.
He learned how to print his negatives, spending enormous amounts of time. On one occasion, he was even left behind when the PAL closed for the night. He could have left, but his love of the place impelled him to stay all night, rather than leave the building unlocked.
Flores recalls the kindness of Bill Raymond, who was the director of the PAL and involved in the Boy Scouts, and Dr. Edward Eismann. “They provided supplies and encouragement whenever I needed it,” he says.
Many of the people who post comments on his photos, are from outside of the United States, and Flores says they view the subject matter as romantic. There was nothing romantic about the time or his efforts, Flores insists. He says he was taking pictures of what he saw, both the pain and the pride.
The photos include burned out buildings, piles of rubble and the general devastation of the neighborhood.
He says he is proud of the people of Hunts Point and Longwood who managed to endure .
A version of this story appeared in the March 2010 issue of The Hunts Point Express.