A worker at Elite Signs in Port Morris.

Exhibit depicts South Bronx’s working heart

Martine Fougeron’s photos display the South Bronx’s unusual mix of heart and industry at The Point CDC’s Art Container studio near Hunts Point Riverside Park.

A worker at Elite Signs in Port Morris.
A worker at Elite Signs in Port Morris.

Martine Fougeron’s photos showing at the Art Container through July 24

One Port Morris resident looks for beauty in her industrial surroundings.

Photographer Martine Fougeron started wondering what was happening in the area’s many factories and warehouses after she moved to the area three years ago. That led her to a photographic odyssey that most recently became Heart of the South Bronx: Trades, an exhibit that has been running at The Point CDC’s Art Container studio since May.

“It is no surpise that Martine, as an artist, has been drawn to this subject and this landscape,” said Carey Clark, Visual Arts Director at The Point, in the show’s press release. “Artists have a tradition of settling in such places and it seems simple enough that they would be happiest in places where things are being made.”

Fougeron started the project in 2011 to draw attention to the many artisanal, family-run businesses that are scattered throughout Hunts Point and Port Morris. They include bakeries, print shops and makers of bedding, among others. In all, she snapped photos of 22 area businesses and the surrounding industrial landscapes.

Through her photos, which will hang in the gallery through July 24, Fougeron attempts to humanize the area’s buildings and businesses. Instead of focusing on the harsh and forbidding exteriors, she said she wanted to show “the dignity of the worker” despite the cityscape that engulfs them.

Persuading local business owners to allow her to take photographs was no easy feat, Fougeron said.

“That was the hardest part. Knocking on doors, just going in, waiting for the foreman to come, the director, the president, showing photos I had taken, and little by little, I made my way through,” she said.

Mott Haven viewed from the window of Beckley's Mattresses.
Mott Haven viewed from the window of Beckley’s Mattresses.

Fougeron started the project with almost no funding, she said, but after three years shooting photos in her spare time, she received a grant from the Bronx Council for The Arts to see the project through.

Fougeron’s work has been shown internationally, and her global perspective was on display in a recent exhibit called Teen Tribe. Through a series of photographs taken over several years in France and New York, she cast light on her son’s transition between adolescence and adulthood, as well as that of his friends.

Her photos have been shown in The New Yorker, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Wall Street Journal Magazine, and New York Magazine.

With 42 photos, Heart of the South Bronx: Trades is the biggest show so far for The Point’s fledgling gallery, which is housed in a repurposed shipping container.

The Point hosted a “Trades Breakfast” at which heads of the companies and businesses portrayed in Fougeron’s work came to say ‘thank you’ for the revealing photographs many had at first been reluctant to allow her to take. They will return on July 24 for a “Trades Talk” at The Point from 3-5 p.m., where they will meet with young people from the area to discuss local business prospects and careers. A “resilience party” for the waterfront will follow from 5-7.

The next step of the project calls for the creation of murals based on Fougeron’s photos, to be painted at the entrances to the depicted businesses so residents can see what goes on inside the shops and factories.

Fougeron’s photos are composed like paintings, said Clark, adding that they represent an important contribution to the local art scene.

“It’s always a great thing to have an artistic reason to get to know your neighbors and often the residential community and the working community in Hunts Point are at odds,” said Clark. “A project like this brings everyone together.”