Age is not a factor for Bronx photography students

“Old Love,” by Carmen Adorno, from the Bronx Senior Photo League exhibit at the Mitchel Houses. Photo:  Vanessa Colón Almenas

Bronx Senior Photo League closes its second year with an exhibit at Mitchel Houses

In February, Carmen Adorno’s camera captured a unique moment in someone else’s life.

Adorno was able to snap the moment when a couple that has been married for 59 years shared an emotional reunion.  The resulting photo, “Old Love,” pictures the hug and kiss between a man on his 98th birthday embracing his 88-year-old wife in a Bronx nursing home, after they had been separated due to the man’s Alzheimer’s. 

The camera manages to freeze the moment when the man recognizes his wife, who had trekked up from Brooklyn to see him. Adorno recalls the man telling his wife, “My love, you came from so far away to see me.” 

Adorno, 75, is one of 13 Bronxites in their 60s, 70s and 80s who took part in the second Bronx Senior Photo League exhibit. His moving portrayal is one of more than 30 photos that was unveiled on 15 vinyl panels at an opening reception on June 26 and ran until July 10 on the grounds of the Mitchel Houses in Port Morris. This year’s class began last fall and was organized by the Bronx Documentary Center for the second straight year. 

Bronx-based photographer Rhynna M. Santos taught the class, as she did last year. Santos, a self-taught photographer, aims to bring out her students’ natural talent and the beauty in their own lives and community through photography. 

“It’s not just a stereotype of ageism, but there’s also the prejudice of being lower income,” said Santos during the opening of the exhibit “Photographing My Life”, that took place at a small park at the 11-building Mitchel Houses complex. “We are in a public housing facility. These are seniors that are lower income and on fixed budgets, who have worked their whole lives and they have to fight a lot every single day,”

Judy Hemphill’s photo on Mitchel Houses playground.

The students’ daily routine is palpable in one photo by Judy Hemphill, 64, who also volunteers at the Mitchel Senior Center. The photo breathes life into an everyday contrast at the Mitchel Houses, in which children are shown at play on the playground while a young man drives a four-wheeler right behind them. The ATV is moving fast enough that it appears blurred in the photo, while the children continue to play, seemingly oblivious to the illegal intruder behind them.

Another student, Florence Garuba, 68, chose to snap a photo of Nigerian food when Santos suggested she photograph something that would convey her native culture. Her own kitchen was the perfect place to take a photo of the ingredients needed to bring that delicious idea to life: yam, okra, shrimps, red oil, and cassava. 

This is the first time that Garuba has taken the class. It is also the first time for her husband Sadiku Garuba, 76, who is the only man in the cohort. 

“I think she is getting better than me,” Sadiku Garuba laughed.

The participants learned skills such as photo composition and how to use a digital camera during the weekly classes, and on field trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Over the nine months of classes, they had visits from guest speakers, and studied the work of women photographers from the African Diaspora and Latin America. 

Although class ended in June and the cameras were returned to the Bronx Documentary Center, that didn’t stop Santos from continuing to mentor her students and teach them new skills. Recently she showed them how to use their cell phones, so they can continue taking photos with a newly-learned mantra: “Look, Think, and Snap.”