It’s almost a fluke that his images survived. In the mid-eighties, Conzo struggled with illicit drug use, and sold off his cameras. His mother kept his negatives safe. After he was arrested for shoplifting, in 1991, he was ordered to go into treatment, where he overcame his substance-use disorder. He trained as an emergency medical technician and began working for the fire department. A decade later, he was among the first responders at the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11. He arrived just after the second plane hit, and had to dig his way out of the rubble. (Like many first responders, Conzo was diagnosed years later with cancer, which is now in remission.)
This past winter, Conzo, retired from the F.D.N.Y., ended up on the front page of the Daily News, and this time he was the story rather than the storyteller. He was one of dozens of tenants in the Bronx who had been issued eviction notices after a private-equity company acquired the buildings that they lived in. Channelling the spirit of his grandmother, Conzo organized the other tenants, and their new landlord backed down.
Buoyed by the rediscovery of his hip-hop work in the mid-two-thousands, Conzo began taking pictures again. Now fifty-eight years old, he was inducted to the Bronx Walk of Fame in May, and two weeks later he was on hand for the groundbreaking of the Universal Hip Hop Museum, of which he’s a founding member. The museum preserves a history that might have been partially lost, had he not thought to photograph his friends back in high school. It’s set to open in 2023, in the South Bronx, just a few blocks away from a playground that was recently christened after his grandmother Evelina.