Documentary Photographer Releases Photos of Bronx Life in the 1970’s

DeWitt Clinton High School, Bronx, NY 1972 ©Ken Light
©Ken Light

The Bronx Documentary Center hosted documentary photographer Ken Light on Thursday, December 3, as he presented and then signed copies of his most recent book “What’s Going On: America 1969-1974”.

The book documents America during what Light called “an era of disruption”.

In addition to the borough being featured in his book, Light decided to work with BDC because of his heritage.

“The intrigue was there to go back to the Bronx where my people are from” he said, after reminiscing about his early life on Gerard Avenue.

He admires the work of the BDC, as he feels the arts are very important in terms of bringing communities together and lifting them out of poverty.

“What’s Going On” includes photographs taken at DeWitt Clinton High School in 1972, when it was an all male school of over 4,000 students.

Because his father had attended DeWitt Clinton, Light wanted to see what it was like, and document it.

What he found was a hostile environment featuring barred windows and armed guards on patrol. “It was like rehearsal for these kids to go into prison,” he said.

However Clinton was just one stop on the photographers’ journey across the United States.

“I wanted to capture the political unrest.. and put a face on America as I saw it,” said Light.

As a young anti-war organizer in 1970, he attended a protest against the Cambodian invasion during the Vietnam war.

Light took the photos because he was there, without knowing that just a few days later the shooting at Kent State would rock an already tumultuous nation.

Light’s photos were soon published by major news outlets, and his eyes were opened to the power of photography.

“Photography is a powerful way to create a record, it’s like saying ‘hey this happened.. here’s the proof’ ”.

Light related the events of the past, documented in his book, to the landscape of America today.

“With all these things happening now, I’m very curious for people to step back and really see the change in America. It was a different type of involvement. You would go to a demonstration and everyone would be focused on what was happening. Now if you go, everyone is on their phones… have we really improved?”

This is Ken Light’s 9th published book focusing on social justice issues.

His other subjects have included inmates at Texas death row, southerners living in rural poverty, and Mexican immigrants working on farms after illegally entering the country.

“Most of the things and people I photograph are not often reported on, most of these people have no voice and through photography they are finally being seen,” said Light.

He is currently a professor of photojournalism at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

His book is available for purchase online at

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