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‘Greetings from Coney Island’ shines at Brooklyn’s Federal Courthouse gallery

July 6, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Magistrate Judge Robert Levy, and curators Rick Kopstein and Lauren Welles welcomed judges, lawyers, court employees and artists to Brooklyn’s Federal Court recently for the opening of, “Greetings from Coney Island,” a photography exhibit featuring the work of 28 artists. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese

Donato DiCamillo was born in Brooklyn, the child of Italian immigrants. At a young age, DiCamillo had behavior issues and by the time he was 16, he was kicked out of school. Eventually, he found himself inside a federal prison in Virginia.

Nowadays, you can find DiCamillo, or at least his photographs, in Brooklyn’s federal court, where they are on display from now until Sept. 28.

When DiCamillo was in federal prison, he became intensely interested in photography. When he was released in 2012, he taught himself how to use a camera while still in home confinement. He took photos of bugs, plants and anything within 120 feet of his home. Eventually, he made it to Coney Island.

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“If you look at his photographs, his photos are really strong just like all of the photographs here,” said Magistrate Judge Robert Levy. “But there is something really amazing and elemental about them.”


DiCamillo is one of 28 photographers whose work is on exhibition at the Charles P. Sifton Gallery in Downtown Brooklyn’s Federal Court. “Greetings from Coney Island” features artists documenting America’s Playground — the culture, the characters, the Mermaid Parade, the Polar Bear Swim and, of course, the boardwalk.

On Thursday, June 28, the judges of the courthouse hosted a reception for the artists featured in the gallery. Hon. Dora Irizarry, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, spoke as well as Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy, who oversees the gallery.

“We are greatly pleased to display an array of images documenting the iconic beach and boardwalk,” said Chief Judge Irizarry. “Very few things are more typically Brooklyn than Coney Island.

Hon. Dora Irizarry next to photographer Ken Farrell.

Rick Kopstein, one of the curators of the exhibit along with Lauren Welles. Kopstein is also a veteran photographer in the courthouse associated with the New York Law Journal.

“It holds a special place for me because it was the first beach I had ever seen,” she continued. “I was eight years old and I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the sea of water that kept kissing the sand and rushing away, and the sea of humanity basking in the sunlight.”

Judge Levy said that the court decided on a gallery featuring Coney Island because nearly every person who walks into the courthouse has some connection to Coney Island. Even Judge Levy, who grew up in Minnesota, knew of the Coney Island hot dog.

“I grew up in Minnesota so I didn’t have the same kind of association, but I can tell you that we would ride our bikes 10 blocks when I was 7 years old up to a diner called Ashleys and for 15 cents you could get a hot dog, but for 25 cents you could get a Coney Island dog. For the rest of my life when someone says, ‘Do you want a Coney Island?’ I’m excited because it’s something I really, really love.”

He also outed Magistrate Judge Gary R. Brown, who sits in the Central Island courthouse, for being a magician who wrote a book titled, “The Coney Island Fakir: The Magical Life of Al Flosso,” about Al Flosso, a famous magician who was from Coney Island.

Finally, Lauren Welles, one of the curators of the show along with Rick Kopstein, spoke about the artists who are display, the hard work they put into the show, and the financial commitment it takes.

“We looked at a lot of work before we extended the invitations,” Welles said. “Everybody’s work on the wall has a different and unique visual perspective. We were really looking for that. It serves as an analogy to what I think of as Coney Island these days. It’s a community of diversity, a place where people of all different ages, backgrounds and experiences come together and enjoy themselves.”


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