Photo Essay: The Secret Lives of South Bronx Teenagers

Photographer Sarah Blesener documents life in the South Bronx

The South Bronx is famous for two reasons: It is home to the country’s poorest congressional district and has a reputation as a hotbed of crime. It also happens to rank among the highest risk communities for children in the city. Looking beyond the headlines in search of the adolescents who define the future of this community, this work focuses on 14-year-old Chavier, and his circle of close friends. The series delves into issues of adolescence and belonging by focusing on a surrogate family of adolescent boys, who together share the fragile world of youth in a neighborhood highly influenced by fear and violence.

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.

Chavier and friends running on an afternoon free of school. All four boys attend different schools but live on the same block.

Chavier and his father Frank Leon inside of their apartment. Frank is one of Chavi's greatest supporters, pushing him to succeed and graduate high school.

Chavier and his father Frank Leon inside of their apartment. Frank is one of Chavi’s greatest supporters, pushing him to succeed and graduate high school.

A dog jumps at passerbys on the road to St. Mary's park, a recreational center home to weekly events for the community.

A dog jumps at passerbys on the road to St. Mary’s park, a recreational center home to weekly events for the community.

Professor Kim Cai directs a practice with students from the High School of Violin and Dance. Following practice, the students will perform their year-end concert for the public.

Professor Kim Cai directs a practice with students from the High School of Violin and Dance. Following practice, the students will perform their year-end concert for the public.

Chavier rests with his two cousins, Jeremy and Jerry. Chavi's family is from the Dominican Republic, but keep strong family connections in New York.

Chavier rests with his two cousins, Jeremy and Jerry. Chavi’s family is from the Dominican Republic, but keep strong family connections in New York.

Chavier in the South Bronx.

Chavier in the South Bronx.

Chavier and friends take an afternoon break and head outside to play around the playground.

Chavier and friends take an afternoon break and head outside to play around the playground.

Chavier overlooks the South Bronx.

Chavier overlooks the South Bronx.

 

Sarah Blesener is a documentary photographer based between New York City and Moscow. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she studied Linguistics and Youth Development at North Central University. While in University, she worked as a photographer for the organization Healing Haiti based in Port au Prince, Haiti, covering events surrounding the 2010 earthquake. She is a recent graduate of the Visual Journalism and Documentary Practice program at the International Center of Photography in New York, and currently works between New York and Russia, focusing on post-conflict studies and politics.