Today we meet Mike Kamber, an engaged photographer as well as the co-founder of the Bronx Documentary Center; a photography, video and educational art center that strives to reach out to the general public with powerful messages and engaged art work.
Founded in 2011, it mainly shows works that deal with issues such as violence, civil rights, war, women’s rights, social progress and exposing injustice. Mike tells us how this project came together and how it is to work in one of the poorest and most difficult neighborhoods of the country.
Deborah Galante. Could you please explain what is the Bronx Documentary Centre and its background?
Mike Kamber. The BDC is an educational center that uses photography and film as learning tools. We will do seven exhibitions in 2015 and show approximately 30 documentary films. We also have an afterschool documentary photography and writing program and are doing weekly professional development classes with Bronx photographers. These classes focus on documentary practices and journalism.
D.G. How did it all start?
M.K. I worked overseas for several years with my friend Tim Hetherington and we used to have conversations about the need for a nonprofit center that taught photography and film in ways that we felt were important. And we were particularly interested in diversity in the media, which is very much lacking. When Tim was killed in Libya in 2011, myself and some friends got together to make day the BDC a reality. It was started up with volunteer labor and a few credit cards.
D.G. What kinds of exhibitions do you offer and which type of public do you receive?
M.K. We show documentary projects from around the globe as well as from the Bronx. We focus on different themes such as the environment, stopping violence, child marriage and the abuse of women, the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many other subjects. About 70% of our public comes from the Bronx. The rest is from Brooklyn and Manhattan primarily. We generally get people who are interested in social activism and creating positive change. We also get many people who love photography and care deeply about filmmaking.
D.G. How is it like to work in a neighborhood, which is stereotyped as dangerous and poor?
M.K. The South Bronx has been a terrific neighborhood to work in. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in America but it is extremely dynamic and full of hard-working immigrants and Americans who are trying to better their lives. People are extremely friendly here and our volunteers from the neighborhood have been a key part of our success.
D.G. What are your long-term objectives?
M.K. We plan to continue to slowly build our programs. We are opening a photographer in residence program this year as long as a dedicated photography library. We just finished a dark room and film-editing suite. We hope to expand our education and afterschool programs in particular. We are already training successful young journalists but simply want to have a greater reach and a more positive effect on our community.
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