The negatives ended up stuffed in a closet. And the South Bronx was quietly transformed in the late 1980s by community campaigns that created new homes, community gardens and smaller schools. I became a journalist and traveled to Latin America, where I confronted poverty that made New York’s worst look tame.
But I always came back to the Bronx. I have spent much of my professional life chronicling the same streets I photographed as a young man. Six years ago, I moved back for good, with my wife and son. Some people thought I was crazy; cynics swore it hadn’t changed much from the Bad Old Days of 1979.
This year, I dug out the old pictures. The images may be black and white, but to look back upon them now is to discover that their secrets are revealed in shades of gray. In a landscape that was written off as uninhabitable — if not unsalvageable — you can see creativity, faith and even a kind of innocence.
Click. In the middle of a Mott Haven street, a lone couple hugs tightly and twirls to the music of an unseen orchestra. Squeegee boys dart out among the land yachts rolling off the Deegan to cadge a quick quarter.
The BBC's presentation of the mocked-up experiment — purporting to show that the Himba are completely unable to distinguish blue and green shades that seem quite different to us, but can easily distinguish shades of green that seem identical to us — was apparently a journalistic fabrication, created by the documentary's editors after the fact, and was never asserted by the researchers themselves, much less demonstrated experimentally.
This explains why the "experiment" was never published, and why the stimuli shown in the documentary don't make sense.
As a result, the striking and impressive assertions made in the documentary must be completely discounted, and we learn yet again that the BBC deserves shockingly little credibility in reporting on science. I wrote about this a decade ago ("It's always silly season in the (BBC) science section", 8/26/2006), and I don't think that things have gotten any better, though I've given up complaining about it.