THE 'HOOD BEACH' OF THE BRONX COMES ALIVE IN WAYNE LAWRENCE'S 'ORCHARD BEACH'
The community, cultural pride and outrageous fingernails of 'the worst beach in New York' are celebrated and preserved in Brooklyn-based Wayne Lawrence's documentary of Orchard Beach: The Bronx Riviera. His portraits of the men, women and families of the 'Puerto Rican promised land' are a visually stunning and socially fascinating look into an untold corner of American culture.
The book tells a beautiful story of a beach that exists despite all odds: the tumoutlous architectural, political and cultural past of the "Boogie Down Bronx" is etched into every tattoo and Puerto Rican flag bikini. For many, the beach was the closest thing to a holiday to the playas de Borinquen, and was a way for Hispanic and black communities to get away from the caprices of urban life. "I wanted to find a way to confront issues of race and class using a visual language that would speak to everyday people." says Lawrence in the books' foreword. And he has truly succeeded: the visually stunning anthology explores the concepts of identity, class, cultural and race just as much as it relates to those of family, love and community. It tells a story of men, women and children who have sought and found solace in the gritty grains and tides of Orchard Beach, and allows for every aspect of their personage to be exposed, explored and admired.
Lawrence's own story is just as loaded as the one his photographs tell: After a decade of the West Coast, Wayne finally returned to New York in 2004. This was after the death of his brother, which affected him and his art profoundly: "I thought about how so many other brothers and sisters, born as pure souls, become statistics of their environment [...], unable to transcend the circumstances they were born into." His refusal to obey or fall prey to the stigmas surrounding one of "the worst beach in the New York" is a testament to his deep thoughts about community and care.
It is perhaps because for this reason that some of Lawrence's best works are his portraits of families. There is a palpable tenderness to the photographs of fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, siblings and cousins: he captures the way the turquoise water and silver sand brings people together with the warmth and gentility of someone with immense love and respect for not only for the people, but for the space that connects them.
His mastery of textures and composition also allow for a truly focused experience. We are able to take in every detail of the people and places he captures, from the crossed-out tattoos of lover's names to the painstakingly painted manicures. The fashion choices of Orchard Beach's residents and visitors also tell stories in their own right: body piercings, oversized jewelry, netted bodysuits and matching tattoos create a feeling that are so many deep characterisations and diverse identities to be explores and discovered through Lawrence's lens. Orchard Beach: The Bronx Riviera is an anthology loaded with fascinating stories and vivid personalities, relayed to us with a deeply charismatic regard and a saccharine spirit.
Orchard Beach: The Bronx Riviera is available for purchase here.
Image credits: Wayne Lawrence/Prestel Publishing