Long stigmatized as a “ghetto beach,” Orchard Beach is a mile long sliver of constructed landscape in The Bronx. Wayne Lawrence has spent the last four years photographing there. Built in the 1930, He says the “The Bronx Riviera” has served as a workingman’s oasis for generations of families living in an environment defined by struggle.
Brett Myers: Why do you call it The Bronx Riviera?
Wayne Lawrence: Well, I didn’t come up with the title. Orchard Beach was dubbed the Riviera of New York when it was first built back in the 30′s mainly because of it’s grand design during that time. Over the years it’s been called many things like, Chocha Beach and The Puerto Rican Riviera but The Bronx Riviera is the name that is most popular and a name which I think somehow fits the work that I’ve done there.
BAM: What drew you to Orchard Beach as opposed to the dozens of other NY beaches?
WL: Maybe it’s because I grew up on an island that I’m always drawn to the ocean wherever I am in the world. So when I started photographing at Orchard Beach, it was at a time when I was getting to know New York, having moved here from California, and I needed a place where I could grow as a photographer and where I knew that I wouldn’t mind spending a lot of time. So going to the water felt natural. I was drawn to Orchard Beach in particular because it is man-made and has a reputation for being one of the worst beaches in New York but to most of the people who go there, it’s the best thing happening during the summer.
BAM: I bet there’s some really good food being barbequed and shared. What are the smells of Orchard Beach?
WL: Well, no fires are allowed on the beach, so you won’t see or smell anything on a grill unless you go to the park right behind. Most people either bring their own stuff or spend too much on junk food at the concession stands there. What you will smell a lot of is blunt smoke.
BAM: Are there any anecdotes or stories from your time there?
WL: One of the benefits of doing long term documentary work is that it has allowed me the opportunity to really connect with a lot of my subjects. Some of whom have shared very intimate details of their life stories with me. A lot of these stories I wouldn’t feel comfortable repeating but are constant reminders that things aren’t always as they seem and that life is indeed precious and should celebrated.