Spectators paused before photographer Ruben Natal-San Miguel’s photograph of a man with a large, thorny rose tattooed on the back of his skull, gazing at the water at Orchard Beach.
“He was thinking about his mother who had died,” Miguel said. “Her name was Rosa.”
Miguel chose this photograph to donate to the Bronx Documentary Center (BDC) for its fifth annual photo auction benefit on Oct. 25 because his own mother is dying and he felt the photograph was a reflection of him in this moment in time. The photograph sold for $900.
The auction was also a celebration of the BDC’s 8th anniversary and new annex, where the event took place. Proceeds from the ticket sales and auction will help the Center expand its exhibition program and free, afterschool programs.
Kelli Scarr, Director of Grants and Finance at the BDC, said the benefit raised roughly $35,000, which is $5,000 more than the previous year. The highest bid was for “Boy Pushing Tire in the Street,” by Arthur Leipzig. It sold for $1,750.
Auction items included 34 photographs from renowned photographers including Susan Meiselas and Paula Bronstein, and 14 raffle items, including 13 limited edition Marvel comics, BDC merchandise, and four tickets for select Disney parks across the world.
The event included a performance by Bobby Sanabria, the Grammy-nominated percussionist and composer, who had attendees salsa dancing late into the event.
Michael Kamber, executive director of the BDC, said the free programs such as the Bronx Junior Photo League (BJPL), a photography and journalism program at BDC, teach middle and high school students to use photography, writing, and research to explore social justice issues. Keeping the program free is central to the BDC’s community efforts.
“We probably take in about 20 percent of our budget from this benefit,” Kamber said. “Without the benefit, there’s teachers who don’t get hired and kids who don’t get educated. It’s as simple as that.”
Chloe Victoria Rodriguez joined the BDC’s BJPL program in 2012. Now Rodriguez has been around the world, including Japan and Norway, on BDC-funded trips to showcase her work.
“The BDC helped me grow from a Catholic schoolgirl who didn’t know what she was doing with her life into a girl who wants to go to college and wants to study photography,” Rodriguez said, “I owe them a lot because they gave me the resources and they helped me cultivate my talent.”
Ma Audu echoed similar sentiments.
“Photography is expensive–the fact that people can do this and provide this resource to children–I love it,” Audu said with a chuckle. “I love free stuff!”