Side-by-Side by Monroe & Sweet on display at Boca’s Levis JCC

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By: Jan Engoren Contributing Writer

Walking out of Dennis Scholl and Kareem Tabsch’s 2018 film, The Last Resort, a documentary about the Jewish retirees in Miami Beach in the late 1970-80s, shot by photographers Gary Monroe and Andy Sweet, Terri Berns, director of the Judi & Allan Schuman Museum Gallery at the Levis JCC in Boca Raton, had an epiphany.

“I’m going to present these two photographers’ images and visions side-by-side,” she said.

Thus, was born Side-By-Side in Old South Beach: Photographs by Gary Monroe and Andy Sweet and accompanying lectures, Florida Fresh Miami Beach Retrospective running at the Levis JCC Sandler Center’s Judi & Allan Schuman Museum Gallery through Feb. 16.

In the early 1970s, with freshly minted MFA degrees from the University of Colorado at Boulder Miami natives Monroe and Sweet returned to their hometown with the idea to spend a decade photographing and documenting the elderly Jewish community of South Beach – the Miami Beach Project.

Working in two distinct styles, Monroe in dramatic black and white using a Leica, resulting in meticulous and structured images and Sweet with his Hasselblad camera, providing more vivid colors, giving his images a casual and spontaneous style.

Berns, herself a Miami girl and photographer, was familiar with the places and people in the old Jewish community of Miami.

“Anyone who knew the beach during its Jewish heyday, will be impacted by this exhibit,” she said. “This tropical shtetl in the sun was a place where people (many of them Holocaust survivors) went for parties on the beach, to sit on their porch or in the sun. It was a thriving community and a great place to live out their retired years.”

Monroe, 68, and himself now retired to Ormond Beach, continues to photograph.

He reminisces about those years in Miami Beach.

“Everybody who is Jewish has a connection to Miami Beach,” he jokes.

“We spent a lot of time sitting on benches on Ocean Drive talking to people,” he said. “In those pre-digital days, it was a different environment. People kibbitzed and socialized outdoors.  These people loved us like we were like their grandchildren.”

In fact, one of the images in the exhibit shot by Sweet, shows Monroe sandwiched on a bench between two elderly women. He is in 70s tie-dye; his long hair carefree, a camera slung around his neck. The women, both holding shopping bags, (one advertising Pall Mall cigarettes), are wearing housedresses and a bemused look on their faces.

Conversely, Monroe’s black and white image shows Sweet standing behind a park bench, his head cocked back and his camera at the ready, in back of two elderly women seated on the bench, formally dressed in a coat and sweater holding an umbrella to shade them from the sun.

Viewed in today’s context, the photographs are nostalgic depicting tanned seniors in flowery pastels, holding umbrellas, smoking cigarettes and schlepping shopping carts.

That community vanished in the early 1980s with the arrival of the Cuban Marielitos, more drugs and crime, the Miami Vice-ing of the city, the restoration of the art-deco architecture and the recognition of developers that these people were sitting on a gold mine.

Jews migrated north to Boca Raton and Palm Beach County.

Monroe believes, “The whole community vanished like it never existed.”

Ellen Sweet Moss, Sweet’s sister, and her partner Stan Hughes spent many years uncovering and restoring Sweet’s photo archives, after Sweet was tragically murdered in 1982 at the age of 28.

“If Andy were here, he’d be pretty pleased,” said Sweet Moss. “He loved to make people laugh and was always doing different things. He had a lot of interests and was the kindest person I ever met.”

She remembers that at the age of 10, he painted the family’s live-in help’s room black to use as a dark room.

“This is the first time in forever that Gary and Andy will be exhibited together,” said Hughes, a graphic designer, who spent ten years restoring Sweet’s photos and bringing them back to living color with Photoshop. “It’s great to see their original concept for the Miami Project brought back to life.”

The exhibit is free and open to the public.

For more information, call the Sandler Center at 561-558-2520 or visit levisjcc.org/boxoffice.

Florida Fresh Miami Beach Retrospective programs are $18 unless otherwise noted. 

The History of Discrimination in South Florida with Seth Bramson

Feb. 3, 7:30 pm

You may have heard some of the myths and stories dealing with the history of discrimination in South Florida, including signs that said “No Jews/No Dogs” in front of the famous hotels. But what are the facts? Professor Seth Bramson, America’s single-most published Florida history book author, will tell the real and true story about Jim Crow, segregation and restricted clientele.

The Vice of Miami during the 80’s with Pedro Medina León

Feb. 5, 7:30 pm

It was the first half of the 1980’s and Miami was the city with the highest murder rate in the United States and the center of operations of the drug cartels.  It was no longer the tourist destination it once was. Then in 1984, “Miami Vice” debuted on television.  León will discuss how this iconic show redefined the style of the city and saved it from further downfall.

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Feb. 7, 1 pm

Join us as we sample some classic routines by comedy stars Myron Cohen, Jack Carter, Alan Sherman, Jerry Seinfeld and others who find humor in the sunshine state.

The Art Deco Architecture of Miami Beach with Sharon Koskoff

Feb. 10, 2:30 pm

During the 1930’s, almost 200 hotels and 500 apartment buildings were built on Miami Beach in the “deco” style. Uncover these architectural treasures and the influence the past makes on the future.

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