East Williamsburg

Polaroids and pencils bring the analog photography community together at Brooklyn Film Camera

July 9, 2024 Mandie-Beth Chau
From left: Bob Greco, Tom Robinson and Dan Hureira. Photo by Alex Quiles
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Instant film photographer Tom Robinson founded “Through the Lens and Lead,” a project consisting of Polaroid portraits paired with pencil drawings. In collaboration with Bob Greco and Dan Hureira, the installation opened in the Brooklyn Film Camera (BFC) gallery on Friday, July 5, and will be on view for the month.

“‘Lens and Lead’ was started by my friend Tom in 2017, but it took off in 2019-2020. It involves a Polaroid portrait and a representation in pencil, a self-portrait,” said Greco. “When he started posting these online, it was something that I resonated with. It felt special, intimate and tied to themes of nostalgia within Polaroid.”

Greco, Robinson and Hureira in front of their work. Photo courtesy of Tom Robinson
Greco, Robinson and Hureira in front of their work. Photo courtesy of Tom Robinson

Based in Newcastle, U.K., Robinson’s project expanded internationally when other photographers expressed interest in adapting “Lens and Lead” to their city. Hureira joined from Philadelphia, where he was active in the music scene, and Greco photographed fellow instant photographers in New York. 

“I reached out to Tom in 2021 to be in the project. My contribution was submitting pages for the book from Philadelphia, and then Bob has his in New York and Tom has his in Newcastle,” said Hureira. “In general, photography is parasitic and one-sided; one person is taking the photo, and the other is not contributing or getting anything from it. The idea of the project, from my end, is a way for both parties to contribute and create a work of art versus it being one-sided.”

Several photo books on display. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau
Several photo books on display. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau

The project started with Robinson asking his friend, James, to draw his perspective of a Polaroid portrait Robinson had taken. From there, “Lens and Lead” took shape with Robinson photographing other people and having them draw in pencil beside their Polaroids. 

“There’s a beautiful thing in the naivety of people who haven’t held a pencil in years. There’s a beautiful silence at some point when no one’s saying anything, and people are just drawing. You watch them and see their brain tick away, and how they’re about to create something, then seem proud once it’s finished. You can always see that feeling of ‘Yeah, this represents me,’” said Robinson. “I know everyone in my city, and I like to talk to people, give something back, show my appreciation and say we’re creating this book together. My real first creative output was ‘Lens and Lead.’”

One of the photo books. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau
One of the photo books. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau

Each photographer’s rendition is unique. Greco’s book is a compilation of index cards and Polaroids, whereas Hureira and Robinson used paper books. Locations and subjects vary depending on the artist.

“You can see their individual personalities in the way they’ve chosen to approach the project and present it. It’s still got that common theme going into it, so you can tell it’s all part of the same project but different personalities,” said Rosie Lazzari, Robinson’s partner who attended the show and helped set up the exhibit. 

Photo book on display. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau
Photo book on display. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau

On opening night, the artists took Polaroid portraits of attendees, who then chose a space on the wall to draw their pencil perspective. This version of “Lens and Lead” is plastered through the hallway. At the end of July, the pages will become a book permanently displayed at BFC.

“Photography can be two-sided. Both parties can contribute and have fun,” said Hureira. “It doesn’t have to be this crazy, serious thing. It can be light-hearted and fun. I hope when people come, they have fun.”

Kyle Depew, owner of Brooklyn Film Camera. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau
Kyle Depew, owner of Brooklyn Film Camera. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau

Kyle Depew, owner of BFC, previously worked at the Impossible Project, the group responsible for reviving Polaroid and instant film photography, from 2011-2014. Originally a studio in Bushwick, BFC moved to East Williamsburg, where it serves as a community hub for a broad spectrum of photographers.

“New York needed a film photography camera store. It’s beyond instant film. It’s community-focused, fully celebrating analog photography,” said Depew. “I had this dream of Brooklyn Film Camera 10 years ago and started it in 2015. It started humbly. We were a project in my basement. Two years ago, we moved here, and this feels good, like the final form. It ticks a lot of boxes of what we’ve always dreamed up for this project.”

Tom Robinson outside Brooklyn Film Camera. Photo courtesy of Tom Robinson
Tom Robinson outside Brooklyn Film Camera. Photo courtesy of Tom Robinson

While analog photography was never completely extinct in Brooklyn, the medium has undergone a resurgence in recent years. 

“The more digital our lives become, the more we reach for real things,” said Depew. “All these digital communities and platforms aren’t satisfying us on a basic spiritual level. [Analog photography] feels like an expected backlash to the over-digitization of our lives.”

The vintage photo booth. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau
The vintage photo booth. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau

BFC hosts events and workshops, sells film and cameras, services cameras, displays art and houses a vintage photo booth. The gallery showcases different analog artists and works each month. 

“We had this extra wall in the space and decided to turn it into a gallery. We’re doing our second open call for work in August. We’ve put out a call for submissions on our Instagram and mailing list, and we asked artists to submit work to us to showcase new stuff.” said Carly McGoldrick, gallery and operations manager at BFC, who spearheaded the gallery and the zine library. “Print media is important. Looking at photos on a wall is important. We do so much viewing on screens, and it’s nice to physically see a picture.”

McGoldrick noted that Hureira and Greco work at BFC alongside their artistic endeavors, and called the installation a “friends and family show.” 

Carly McGolrick, gallery manager at Brooklyn Film Camera. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau
Carly McGoldrick, gallery manager at Brooklyn Film Camera. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau

Local photographers and BFC regulars noted the value of the space and its events and expressed how BFC has allowed them to tap into the analog photography community in Brooklyn.

“The nice thing about this place is that they focus on Polaroids,” said Toh Ling, a photographer and loyal BFC patron. “The community space is great, and they organize events. It’s more than a store; they have things where people apply and show in-person, and you meet people from the community. It’s a medium that might feel intimidating, but they do it in a way that feels like anyone could do it.”

Toh Ling, a Brooklyn photographer and regular at Brooklyn FIlm Camera. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau
Toh Ling, a Brooklyn photographer and regular at Brooklyn FIlm Camera. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau

Others noted the personal connection to Robinson, Greco and Hureira which brought them to the show. 

“Dan’s my boy. He’s an incredible photographer,” said Zach Schlein. “I know Dan from his music scene stuff, and there’s a rich tradition of photos capturing distinct moments. There’s something to that raw, ready immediacy and the long-standing element of having a permanent physical totem of a fleeting moment.” 

Rosie Lazzari outside of Brooklyn Film Camera. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau
Rosie Lazzari outside of Brooklyn Film Camera. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau

“I wasn’t aware of everything Brooklyn Film Camera did, but they do so much. It’s something so niche that not many people take an interest in, know about or know how to explore,” said Lazzari. “[BFC] does such a good job of championing that, getting people involved and seeing it as a medium that is cool.”

The show is free to visit at 855 Grand Street and will be up until the end of the month.

Art on the walls. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau
Art on the walls. Photo by Mandie-Beth Chau

 


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