Photographer who snapped hip-hop's early years showcases Bronx's best

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THE BRONX -

A Bronx photographer known for documenting the early years of hip-hop is working on a book that will showcase some of the best spots in the Bronx.

The walls of Joe Conzo's home look more like a museum, with his work on display throughout. The shots go all the way back to the early days of hip-hop, and the New York Times once referred to Conzo as "the man who took hip-hop's baby pictures."

"Hip-hop back then wasn't called hip-hop," Conzo recalls. "It was called 'jams,' and it was a bunch of teenagers that got together every Friday, every Saturday for that jam."

The Bronx was going through rough times when Conzo first started taking pictures. The South Bronx native never thought his career would take off the way it did, but he got the chance to rub elbows with celebrities and travel the world.

"I mean, this kid from the Bronx has been to Bulgaria," he says. "How freaking cool is that?"

He suffered through some dark days after the death of his grandmother. He says he put his camera down in 1984 and 1985 as he was dealing with personal demons.

"I was homeless, dealing with substance abuse, but you know, today I can say I've been clean and sober 28 years," Conzo says.

He eventually went on to become an EMT with the FDNY for 27 years and the vice president of his union. Now retired, Conzo is back to his first passion, and is wrapping up shooting for a new book, "111 Places in the Bronx That You Must Not Miss." It will feature both historic and lesser-known places in the borough.

Conzo also speaks to young people, encouraging them to see different parts of the world and document their surroundings.

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