MELROSE — Documentary photographer Nina Berman’s past work has tackled some heavy topics.
She’s photographed wounded American war veterans and covered conflicts in Bosnia and Afghanistan. But for her latest exhibit, Berman turned her lens on a lighter subject: community gardens flourishing across The Bronx.
“I was kind of looking for a project to do in New York that would make me happy and also be kind of a creative challenge,” said Berman, who lives in Morningside Heights.
She started the project in 2009, and spent a summer scouting out and photographing various gardens in the borough. The culmination of her work is on display now at the Bronx Documentary Center. The exhibit, "Bronx Gardens," opened June 2 and will run through Aug. 16.
Berman's photos capture dozens of Bronx oases. She snapped shots of fully suited beekeepers in Hunts Point, gardeners standing amidst shoulder-high corn stalks at Mott Haven cooperative La Finca Del Sur and the lush garden beds at Taqwa Community Farm in Highbridge at dusk.
Berman said she was drawn to the gardens, many of them tucked beneath subway tracks and nestled between industrial lots, for the contrast they strike against their urban settings.
"It's interesting for me to try and take a place that has so many images attached to it, which The Bronx does — the legacy of Fort Apache, all these sorts of imagery — and to try to reimagine it," she said.
Other sites featured in the show include Clay Garden, which was planted by neighbors on the site of a building that had burned down, and Concrete Plant Park, a seven-acre waterfront park on the industrial western shore of the Bronx River, previously home to a concrete mixing plant.
Berman said she approached Bronx Documentary Center founder Michael Kamber when she attended a gallery exhibit last year that featured some of the last works of Tim Hetherington, a war photographer who was killed in 2011 while covering the conflict in Libya.
"He projected all these images from Libya on the wall. They were quite violent images," Berman recalled.
She thought the gallery might be interested in going a different route for a future project, she said.
"I thought, 'This is very interesting, but wouldn’t it be nice to show some images that aren’t violent?' I went up to Mike and said, 'Mike, maybe you'll want to do something a little different,'" Berman said.
In collaboration, the Bronx Documentary Center started its own garden on the patio next to the space, which Kamber says it plans to use this summer for workshops and educational programs about food justice and environmental sustainability.
For more information, visit www.bronxdoc.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.