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Documenting Dorchester: Local photographer Jaypix spearheads preservation effort

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Documenting Dorchester: Local photographer Jaypix spearheads preservation effort
PHOTO: JAYPIX BELMER

For Dorchester native Jaypix Belmer, the streets of Uphams Corner have always been home. Connecting with neighbors and observing the historic streets of the area were a natural part of life for Belmer — but in the last decade, those actions have become an urgent effort towards preserving Dorchester’s history and character.

Belmer is a photographer, arts educator and community activist. Photographing the neighborhood is an integral part of their practice. They drew particular inspiration from “Dorchester Days,” a 1972 photographic essay by Eugene Richards. Richards was working during a time when racial tensions were high in Boston and drug use and other issues were heavy on community members’ minds.

PHOTO: JAYPIX BELMER

Belmer sees the current moment as another pivotal time, but in a different way. Now, development is displacing community members and jeopardizing historic architecture. “That’s what I’ve noticed in Uphams Corner,” says Belmer. “People were being left behind, and things were changing rapidly, without a lot of people being included in the changes.”

To unite and document the community, preserving evidence of both architecture and community members, Belmer began photographing the neighborhood. They compiled a photo book titled “B.I.R.D. Street,” standing for Building Individuals, Reconstructing Dorchester. “B.I.R.D. Street” was first published in 2010, and the author revisited the publication and updated the introduction and call to action in 2021.

PHOTO: JAYPIX BELMER

But the book is just the start of what has become a much larger B.I.R.D. Street Project. Belmer says their ultimate goal is to create a preservation archive, housed at the Boston Public Library or a similar public institution, that documents the existing neighborhood and its changing landscape.

During community meetings hosted by Belmer every two months, the artist displays historic photographs of the neighborhood and discusses what was going on at the time societally and architecturally in Dorchester. This is an effort to keep “old Dorchester” in living memory and to raise awareness about the significant shifts in the neighborhood since then.

We’re getting missing, because people are not hearing us. We’re not being supported fully. We’re being displaced,” says Belmer. “That’s the start of the preservation archive, being able to be amongst all the past histories of Dorchester and to continue what other histories are coming for us.”

PHOTO: JAYPIX BELMER

The book “B.I.R.D. Street” is available to view and check out from the Boston Public Library at the Uphams Corner (Bird Street) and Codman Square branches. The book, along with other products containing old Dorchester images, can also be purchased through Jaypix’s website. The bimonthly community meetings are open to everyone. Details can be found on Jaypix’s website and Instagram page.

“There are pieces of the neighborhood that are legendary,” says Belmer. “There are people that are legendary. There are people that have made the neighborhood. And so we must still continue to honor those folks, and still continue to build on what neighborhood and community are.”