With the assistance of Bronx Tour Guide Alexandra Maruri, International photographer Matteo Pellegrinuzzi visited The Bronx this week and held a three-day exhibit at The Bronx Draft House. The Bronx/La Villette is a series of photos comparing two places with historical significance, The Bronx New York, and his neighborhood La Villette, Paris. In attendance were some notable personalities such as film director Sara Grimaldi, actor Holt McCallany, and photographer Robert Whitman.
With internationally acclaimed photographers holding exhibits in The Bronx, the expansion of The Bronx Museum, street artists getting national attention, and the increase in tourism, it is evident that The Bronx is shedding the negative stigma and our best days are ahead. Alexandra tells me, “From negative media attention and a lack of information there is a misconception about The Bronx. It is viewed as this dangerous place. This exhibit aimed to highlight the diversity of The Bronx and show everyday people from a local’s perspective.” Alexandra introduced me to Matteo who was kind enough to speak with me about his experience in The Bronx and more.
How did The Bronx/La Villette exhibit come about? I met Alexandra Maruri 2 years ago. She appreciated my work, and she told me about her tourism business. She asked if she could show me around The Bronx to meet the locals and take portraits of them. I shot them with a film camera and developed them four months later. When I showed the results to the director of The Public Library of Paris, he proposed I expose the portraits during the “Paris-New York” month and suggested I make a comparison with La Villette, the neighborhood where I live.
You visited The Bronx before, but what are your impressions of what you’ve seen and who you have met thus far? I’ve been here once before when I met Alex, when I was on my own I just walked around and visited the borough.
What are the similarities between The Bronx and La Villette? La Villette is part of the 19th district. 20 years ago the neighborhood was the center of a crack epidemic, and because of this, there was a continuing conflict with urban gangs. Houses weren’t easily rented or sold because of these problems. Just like the South Bronx, the neighborhood was seen to strangers as a “No Go Zone.” FOX News depicted the neighborhood this way after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Several years before the terrorists lived in the neighborhood. In reality, it is very fashionable, more and more Parisians go out at night, and new bars most of them organic, keep opening. The local City Hall has made a policy of aperture to improve the image of La Villette ultimately. The idea is to improve the quality of life for Parisians and attract more tourists. Many events are held there including the Parisian Summer beach which attracts Parisians from throughout the city.
How can a city draw recognition for its art culture? Would you encourage local artists to try and attract people from outside their important city to come and visit? I think a city can be recognized from its architecture which is an art form. The South Bronx is a street artist neighborhood. I met Sin Xero and Sexer for instance. Their artwork has definitely changed the decoration of the district. In Paris, such artists as Dacruz, Marko 93, and Art of Popof spread their art on several walls in La Villette, and on the wall of the old rail road on Rue de L’Ourcq which is starting to become a destination for Parisians and tourists. Art buildings such as the 104 and activities organized by the public libraries attract people from the outside and help the development of the district.
When you return home, and someone asks “What is The Bronx like?” What would you tell them? In Europe people used to say “I’m going to The Bronx” when they were going to a messy or dangerous zone. When I talk to people about my travels in NYC, it’s hard to change their mind and prejudice. But I describe The Bronx as an attractive part of the city that deserves a visit and which is not as dangerous as they think.
What is your next exhibit? I will make an interactive exhibit at the public library of the 19th district in November through December. It will be a wet plate collodion series; I will realize the portraits with the support of the inhabitants who will learn this technique of photography, created in 1850.
About Matteo Pellegrinuzzi: Mr. Pellegrinuzzi studied History of Cinema at the University of Pavia in Italy. He has made contributions as a cameraman and cinematographer since 2005. His work has been published in numerous international newspapers and magazines. Follow him on Instagram @pelligrinuzzi
About Alexandra Maruri: Ms. Maruri has been a Bronx tour guide and small business owner since 2011. Growing up and living near historic landmarks such as Yankee Stadium, Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, and Woodlawn Cemetery shaped her interest in Bronx history. She hopes her tours help improve the borough’s image. You can follow Ms. Maruri on Instagram @bronxtours