Photographer Caroll Taveras told me she wanted to recreate the old skool photo studio that has disappeared from our culture, so she set up shop on Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue and invited the community to come in and have their photos taken for her latest project…though for $5 you can walk out with a pretty amazing Polaroid too.
Taveras is a talented photographer who uses collage in her work and you can check out her images from the Monaco Circus in Columbia and Kingston, Jamaica to get a taste of her fresh and poised images.
I have a special attachment to photo studios since my father was a studio photographer in Aleppo, Syria, where Armenians dominated the photo industry. He was also an avid photographer when I was a child and many of our early family events are well documented, though when I turned 10 or so he seemed to have lost interest in the art form and the family albums tapered off about that time.
Unfortunately, very few if any of my dad’s studio photos from Syria survived–his formal wedding photo (which he took of himself and my mother) is the rare exception. He immigrated to Canada as a welder so he disposed of all his images and equipment. He didn’t want immigration to see that he wasn’t in fact much of a welder–too bad countries don’t value photographers enough to include them on the list of desirable immigrants.
So, because of this backstory, any visit to a photo studio has a poignant meaning for me. Part of me wishes I was able to see what my father once had. My brother remembers playing in my father’s studio but I was far to young to draw anything but a blank when I try to conjure up that bygone age.
Back to Brooklyn….when one person walked in inquiring about the photography services, Caroll let him know that they are free to wait but that “things don’t seem to move very fast here.” It was nice to sit around and watch others have their photos taken. You can learn a lot about people from their faces at the moment they sense their image is about to be captured on film or Polaroid (she was taking both Polaroid and film images, the former for the “clients” and the latter for her photo project).
One little girl had supposedly returned for a second photo with her princess dress on but didn’t want to wear her tiara, preferring to have her two colorful thin braids dangle and frame her face. She let Caroll take an extra Polaroid of her for a wall which featured some of the photo project participants. Among the mix were all types of people, though the young and stylish dominated the wall.
My friend Lyra K. accompanied me and she had her photo taken as I darted out to purchase a bottle of Prosecco to sip while we waited (it was Caroll’s suggestion, I swear). When it came to my turn I didn’t exactly come dressed in my Sunday best but preferred to be decked out in my urban casual with accents of favorite things that didn’t exactly match…I guess I was subconsciously trying to be post-gay.
After our individual sessions, Lyra and I decided we also wanted a photo together. We had both left our significant others elsewhere so that we could spend the afternoon together, and so we marked the occasion with a photo. There was something lovely about the marking of time, relationships and occasions with studio photography. Without the city as your backdrop (unless it is painted) the experience becomes more severe and made me feel a little like a specimen in a petri dish.
Lyra shared her own thoughts about the process:
I was surprised at how she was able to create a very vibrant community space so easily. It really hearkened back to the fact that portrait photography was a social thing, that photographers got to learn about their community and were relied upon to represent it. That’s totally lost in today’s closed-circuit of taking your own digital photo with a camera held at arm’s length. Sure, you can share it immediately with your friends online, but that’s different than sipping Prosecco on a sunny Brooklyn afternoon and watching a little girl arrange her princess dress and tiara for the camera, or an affectionate couple preen and pose in their specially chosen outfits.
Here is the final portrait of us together placed on what I thought inspired–at least psychically–the image.
The Photo Studio is located on 539 Atlantic Avenue Brooklyn between 3rd and 4th. Hours are Tuesday through Friday 1:00 pm to 8:00 pm and Saturday through Sunday 12:00 pm through 5:00 pm. Through February 14, 2009 (though it is closed Feb 12).
CORRECTION: My apologies to Caroll who informed me that there were NO digital images and that was an important part of the project. The post has been corrected to indicate that non-Polaroid images were in fact 4x5s.