Jerry Berndt, 'The Combat Zone'

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'Boston', 1967 / © Jerry Berndt
'Raid in after hours joint, Boston', 1969 / © Jerry Berndt
'Prostitute, Boston', 1968 / © Jerry Berndt
'Prostitute looking out window, Washington Street, Boston', 1968 / © Jerry Berndt
'3am, Washington Street, Boston', 1968 / © Jerry Berndt

‘The Combat Zone’: the name given to the roughest area in Boston at the end of the 1960s, full of violence, sexual exploitation and racial war. The only refuge was the counter of a bar or a games arcade, offering brief moments of respite before heading out again onto the streets.

In 1967, Harvard University commissioned Jerry Berndt to explore this Boston of shadows and vice. Like a war reporter, the young 24-year-old photographer ventured onto the battlefield to get as close as possible to the action: until 1970 (only a few years after the Boston Strangler terrorized the city, with 13 victims), Berndt worked mostly at night to show the poverty, solitude and self-destruction that were destroying the neighbourhood.

Berndt’s gaze is fraternal and complicit with the losers if the system: among the twenty or so photos on display at the In Camera gallery, he can show both immediate violence (a prostitute knocked out by her pimp, a sequence of shots showing a street scene like a small photographic novel) and the subtle tensions that reigned between women, men, white, black, aggressors and victims: a raw and hyper-sensitive reportage.

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