The Brooklyn Social Club: Documenting Brooklyn in the 90s

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We chatted with Terrence, Dominic, and Damian of The Brooklyn Social Club who are creating art surrounding the Williamsburg and Greenpoint communities in the 90s. Check out more about their stunning documentary images and the stories behind them below.

Hi to you all! Can you introduce yourselves to the Lomography community?

Dominic: Before I get into the questions, I want to explain that I have a twin brother named Damian, who is also working on the project with us. He has been organizing the images and setting them into a narrative for our collective project. He is also the writer for most of the project and helps with the direction of information and research we are collecting. My brother and I are from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Our parents came here from Poland in the early eighties and moved to the neighborhood when there was once a large Polish community. I am a graphic designer who has worked in the field for more than five years. Damian is trained in writing and photography, both digital and analogue, and has been interested in documenting Williamsburg, Brooklyn for years. He has wanted to document his friends and their surroundings and the constant changes that both have gone through, especially in recent years.

Terrence: I lived in Williamsburg for 25 years. I moved to the city to pursue photography after I graduated from RIT. I was an assistant for Barron Claiborne and Steven Sebring during my first few years in the city. Barron Claiborne is notable for photographing Biggie Smalls and for creating the now well-known image of Biggie sporting a gold crown. I was lucky enough to be an assistant for that shoot and even luckier to be able to wear it before the shoot as a stand-in. I then went on to work for The New York Times, Random House, Rolling Stone magazine and MTV. I once photographed Allen Ginsberg at his home, which I then was able to sell to the Village Voice and Rolling Stone after his passing for their cover story.

©Terrence Miele

How did you both get started in photography and how did you meet each other?

Damian: We met Terrence in the neighborhood when we were very young, maybe about 12 years old. He would sometimes run into him at the park, playing basketball. We played basketball every day so if someone was there quite often, we would befriend them. We would also see Terrence on Grand St. selling books and records sometimes. We would hang around his bookstand and when it was time to set up and leave, he would pay us a few dollars to help him bring it back to his apartment. And from there, the friendship grew and one day I came upon his negatives at his apartment and saw my childhood in the images and fell in love. Terrence began photographing at a young age and told his high school art teacher Constance Burkhardt that he wanted to be an artist, so she took him in and taught him darkroom photography. He became obsessed and stayed in, in the dark rather than outside.

I began photographing as a method of compromise against the constant change and displacement I was witnessing and experiencing. I wanted to be able to share with other people the places and faces of my community before they all vanished and became only a memory. I wanted to have photographs of my coming-of-age so that I can hopefully relay them to other people in the future. I can remember that my first film camera was a Holga when I was 16. I remember showing it to Terrence and expecting him not to know anything about it because I was still trying to learn about the camera myself. I showed it to him and he said Where'd you get that Holga? He knew a lot more than I thought.

©Terrence Miele

Terrence, can you tell us a bit about what it was like documenting NYC in the 90s?

Terrence: I would have to say that it took courage. It took a lot from the photographer when photography was totally analogue. It took a long time to develop a trust factor with people and it took real work and experience to build that. It sometimes took years to develop that trust but at the same time, that trust could deteriorate within a day if something were to go wrong. But at the same time, people seemed to be more welcoming because digital technology had not yet taken over society. I documented a great amount of youth and they can be very unpredictable and still learning to cope with their surroundings. The surroundings weren't easy and the youth suffered greatly because of it, but a lot of them persevered as they found methods to distract themselves from the overwhelming poverty around them through skateboarding, in-line skating, basketball, softball, block parties, and imagination. This is what 90s photography was for me.

I would then develop my photographs on North 11th St. at a darkroom that I shared with Martin Schoeller and Ben Stechschulte. Photography was a 24/7 on the clock job from developing a close relationship with people in the day to developing the photographs at night to have them ready to be printed the next day.

©Terrence Miele

How has the city and your photography changed in your eyes since then?

Terrence: There are more photographers in the city now and that changes the way people respond when you ask if you can photograph them. And because of this, a lot of photographers I meet tend to care more about their image of themselves than the images they are photographing. The city has a different appearance, different light (LED), making for different images. There is a lack of patience for photographers who are willing to take a few minutes to take the image that they envision of their subject. This is obviously because technology is so much faster and there are numerous modalities of instant gratification, such as Instagram. Analogue photography took at a minimum, a week before you can see your image.

©Terrence Miele

For you both, how has meeting each other and working together affected the way you approach photography?

Damian: Well, it gave us a common goal to begin with. That is very important because photography can take you in all kinds of directions if not for a common goal or idea. It created a place for us where we were able to narrow our focus and get in tune with our subjects to a greater degree. And it allowed us to put all our experiences, our knowledge of our neighborhood, our love of our community and for its people into a project that can help us all. But the beauty of such a project as this is that it has the capability to bring people together or even rekindle old friendships. I've noticed that already. For example, Terrence ran into Waldo, an old friend of his, one of the skateboarders that he used to photograph, and he told him about the photographs that were just scanned and told him to stop by his home one of these days to check them out. He called Terrence a few days later and came by his apartment. We were all there working on our project and Waldo came with two of his friends and as we looked through the scans together, they marveled at the photographs and were in awe as they were able to witness their childhood again. It was beautiful to see how happy they were.

©Terrence Miele

Any exciting things we can expect to see from you both in the future?

Damian: We hope we can create a platform for the expression of our friends, family, and our surrounding community. We are hoping that after the publication of this current project, we will be able to print a small periodical every month with creative works from us, our friends and community. We hope that in some way we can provide a place to create art and give a voice to our familiar concerns that we have about our community. This can be in the form of small photo books, short stories, essays, poetry, drawings, film stills and any other form of art that can be printed. We hope through all this we will bring the community together and create a circle of like-minded folks to create and live together in harmony and support.


For more updates on The Brooklyn Social Club, be sure to follow the collective on their Instagram
as well as Terrence, Dominic, and Damian.

written by sragomo on 2019-01-14

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