Born and raised in the Bronx, Joe Conzo Jr. develop his passion for photography when he was young while attending the Agnes Russell School on the campus of Columbia University. He continued his formal art education at the School of Visual Arts (New York City).
During his early years, “Joey” witnessed volatile community activism in the South Bronx and the world of Puerto Rican avant-garde arts and music scene in New York. Any day, he could be found nipping at his grandmother’s heels, the late Dr. Evelina Lopez Antonetty (a dynamic leader and passionate activist), who was committed to a defiant act of civil disobedience in favour of the educational rights minorities in the South Bronx.
Other days, he could have been in constant company with his father, Joe Conzo Sr. (confidant and biographer of the late legendary bandleader and musician Tito Puente for a long time), and behind the scenes with the Latin music giants like Machito, Charlie Palmieri, Johnny Pacheco, and Ray Barretto.
These two lived realities will have a profound effect on the way Joey saw his surroundings through the lens of a camera.
Coming of age as a young person and budding photographer in the mid-1970s turned out to be a baptism of fire in an unprecedented chapter of the urban decadence in New York. Joey belonged to a generation that had refused to be erased by corrupt politicians and a derogatory education system. His talent had found its place in collective acts of rebellion that reinvented the same world that had them dead. This socio-cultural movement would end up being recognized in the U.S. history books as Hip Hop.
The art, music, dance and aesthetics of his time resulted in a consciousness that challenged the authority and inspired personal battles with silence and hopelessness. There, at its earliest stage, Joey, aka “Joey Kane,” was passionately embracing his role as official photographer in a drama that was taking place. However, every revolution has its casualties and very few get away with it.
After a tumultuous period of substance abuse and homelessness, Joe Conzo Jr. wanted a positive change in his life. He started seeking change step by step With his archive of photographic work preserved with love in boxes by his mother and the members of the legendary Cold Crush Brothers group. His personal reinvention led him into the medical professions, where he eventually received the totile of Nurse. Then later, he joined the New York Fire Department as an emergency medical technician. It was his role as an EMT that led him to the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001.
This near-fatal experience of Joe Conzo Jr. during the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil reinforced his decision to keep control of his life. Among his life choices, he resumed his stalling relationship with a camera, and found his passion for life from behind the lens again. A few years later, he met American photographer and videographer Henry Chalfant, who was working on the documentary “From Mambo to Hip Hop: A South Bronx Tale”. Chalfant asked Joey for permission to include some of his Cold Crush Brothers images in the film. This collaboration led to a friendship between the two of them that continues today. The documentary received the 2006 ALMA Award in the category of Best Television Documentary.
Joe Conzo: ‘Born in the Bronx’.
Without the artists able to participate in traditional exhibitions this year, what does BEYOND THE STREETS provide to the art world?
With the disappearance of the traditional rule this year, BTS has been able to think outside the “box” and continue to provide a platform for artists like me to continue to promote and share their work with the public. After the hard blow suffered by the artthis year, BTS continues with very few limits to provide a platform for artists to continue being artists and sharing their work with the world.
What is your contribution to the show?
My contribution to the show is the publication of an expanded version of my book “Born In The Bronx” published the first time in 2007. BTS has become possible for the world to have another chance to own this classic book with 1XRUN, Rock The Bells and Boo-Hooray Gallery.
How have New York artists responded to the world this year?
New York artists are reistant and always look for ways to share their art and support each other.
As a photographer, it is about respecting the art form, their elders and supporting the growing generation. BTS has been that and continues to be that platform for artists all over the world.