They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what Dondre Green’s photos represent is an entire history. His images capture not just moments in time but moments of humanity, connecting casual passers-by and imaginative onlookers more deeply to the simplistic complexity of the human experience.
A native of the Bronx, the borough is just as much a part of Green as he is a part of it. He’s lived there for his entire life, and he’s on a mission to give the world a fresh perspective from the inside. That’s why he’s the Founder and Creative Director of the Bronx Narratives; an aesthetic project that seeks to change the vision people have of the borough. "The Bronx is more than just crime and Yankee Stadium", Green says. "It’s home to a particular kind of beauty and a unique way of life."
In that way, examining Green’s photography is really somewhat of a learning experience. Since most of his images are of people and landscapes from within the Bronx—featured among colors, patterns, and angles as eclectic as the subjects themselves—viewers can appreciate a more intimate look into everyday life in the borough.
But the pictures offer something else, too. They are a reflection of Green himself, and by learning about the Bronx viewers can learn more about the man behind the camera. “My photos are an extension of me,” he said, “the things that I see, experiences that I feel, and the instincts that make me capture them.” Maybe that’s why it’s easy to feel empathy toward the stories Green tells through his art. It’s hard not to admire the love and respect he has for his borough. When you look at his photos, you can feel the humility.
Green doesn’t just want to talk to outsiders about the Bronx, however. He’s just as passionate about reaching out and forming relationships with the people he aims to represent. Using his influence as a popular photographer, he’s currently a mentor with FindSpark, an organization that connects interns and recent graduates with other professionals in New York City. His one tip for being successful in a career? “Remember your purpose and why you do what you do,” he says.
That advice extends to more than just a career. It summarizes his life philosophy. As long as you’re always pursuing what you were made to do, life will work itself out.
We took a moment to listen to Dondre Green’s best stories and anecdotes for young professionals (seen here wearing a black Triple F.A.T. Goose Scotia).
1) What does the Bronx mean to you?
The Bronx means home. This is where I’ve resided all of my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
2) There are pros and cons that come with a neighborhood gentrification. Would you like to see the Bronx gentrified? How do you feel about the Bronx becoming a tourist hotspot?
I have a hard time fathoming people getting kicked out of their own communities and not being able to enjoy certain developments that they may have wanted at one point or another. Gentrification is a double edge sword. I’d love to see continuous development within the Bronx, but not any with ulterior motives. In regards to the Bronx becoming a tourist spot, I think everyone should visit to get the real authentic New York City experience. I feel we have plenty to offer.
3) Most of your photos are of Bronx natives and the landscape. It also seems like you try to tell a story with each photo and find the beauty in the ordinary. Would you agree to this assessment?
I’ve challenged myself to re-love my borough two years ago and since then, it may have been one of the best things I’ve ever done. When I take photos, I’m speaking through pixels and I hope whoever is viewing is hearing what’s communicated.
4) As a person who has taught photography to middle school students, what tips would you provide to an aspiring photographer?
Shoot something new every day. Don’t buy an expensive camera when you begin. Tell YOUR story.
5) You also volunteer as a Find Spark Mentor, helping students and recent college grads with career planning. What advice would you give to the students who don’t know what they should do after graduating?
I always tell my mentees to stay active and be productive. Post-graduating, it’s very easy to fall into a pit without having a routine. Whatever the routine they design is, it should always focus them a few steps closer to where they want to be. Most importantly, I tell them to never get discouraged. Filling out numerous applications and not hearing anything back can be tough, but you miss every shot you don’t take.
6) Some photographers believe Photoshop enhances a photo, while others say that it ruins the natural beauty of a photograph. What are your thoughts on Photoshop and editing photos?
As a Graphic Designer as well, I use Photoshop more so for manipulations in my design work. I don’t like airbrushing images, simply because it isn’t my style. When I edit my photos in Lightroom, I try to keep my edits very minimal.
7) What is your favorite winter activity to do in the Bronx?
This is a good question. I’d say, visiting the Christmas House of the Garabedian Family. This one family over by Pelham Parkway, they do such an incredible job of decorating their house with a massive display of lights out and mannequins out front. Tons of families come out to see it each year and I’d say it’s the best way to get in the holiday spirit.
8) In one of your tweets, you wrote: “photography always reminds me to let life happen.” Can you elaborate on this?
Sometimes when taking a photo, I have a tough time figuring out what the end result of the image I’m taking is going to look like. And then someone walks by as I’m pondering, and I capture the shot and it’s an even better idea than I was initially thinking. So in that same theory, I try to apply it to life. Things can figure themselves out when you allow them to.
9) While doing the Bronx Narratives, you must’ve interviewed dozens of Bronxites, hearing their stories, discussing their struggles and hopes. Was there a common theme you found amongst their stories?
From Bronxites, I think a common thread means convenience. They want sustainable jobs, better resources and places for enjoyment and leisure without having to leave their borough. Whenever I speak with people from outside the borough, they all have very unique connections and I find it fascinating to listen.
10) In your bio, you mentioned that you enjoy a great conversation. If you could talk to any one person (historical or current), who would it be, and what would you ask?
Will Smith. I don’t think I’d have one particular question, I’d just talk about life and listen mostly.