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In a city with more than 8 million inhabitants, it’s incredulous that New York City does not have a single Black-owned camera shop. But photographer and artist Dominick Lewis is hoping to change that next month when he opens a new brick-and-mortar camera store in Brooklyn.
Lewis, who has been based in New York for the last three years, spoke to The North Star at length about his work as a photographer and what motivated him to bring his thriving online store into the real world.
For the last four months, Lewis has been photographing Black Lives Matter protests in the city, an experience he said has been both rewarding and difficult at the same time.
“So, kind of going into this, very difficult, especially that first day when I witnessed a burning cop [car]. I went home and immediately was like, ‘I can’t wait ‘till this is over, so I can go back to the work that I really love,’” Lewis said. “But it’s also rewarding at the same time because I feel like it’s very historical and these moments that I’m capturing are going to be, you know, used, who knows 20, 40, 50 years from now.”
“I feel like it’s very important that I capture it all because we want the story to be told properly in the future,” he added.
Apart from documenting the protests, Lewis has also been photographing pre-gentrified neighborhoods in Brooklyn as part of his Document Brooklyn project. The New York native grew up in South Florida but spent his summers visiting family in the city. It wasn’t until he permanently relocated to the city that he realized how much had changed.
“Once I came back here, kind of for good, I started to realize how much has changed,” he said. “Just being as a kid, like some of the empty lots that we played in as a kid now are high rises, you know. The same street corners that I got so much from…are now like coffee shops and things. And we’re seeing that change that kind of really impacted me. And I felt like once it’s gone, it’s gone, it’s never going to come back.”
Lewis said he felt it was crucial to document the evolution of these neighborhoods so his photographs can later be used for historical purposes.
Now, Lewis said he’s ready to finally move his photography skills and his online store to a physical store in Brooklyn. His large Instagram following, mostly made up of photographers and those who wanted help with their photography, helped him realize that he should open up a Black-owned camera shop.
“It’s always been part of my dream, and I felt like right now is the best time more than ever because of that opportunity that’s arising,” Lewis said, noting the sentiments surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. “I noticed that there aren’t any Black-owned camera stores in New York especially.”
Lewis also said he has heard allegations of employees working for other camera stores who have been vocal of their disagreement with the Black Lives Matter movement. In June, B&H Photo was forced to remove a human resources employee for their posts about openly against the movement.
The incident involving B&H Photo made Lewis realize that companies are making money off of Black lives without actually supporting Black lives. “We’re giving them millions [of] dollars every year and they don’t even support us,” he said. “So why should we go to stores like that? I think it’s very important that we have our own.”
To make his store a reality, Lewis launched a GoFundMe page, which has already surpassed it’s $25,000 goal. As of publishing, the page raised more than $35,000. Lewis told TNS that the money will go towards paying for inventory for the store, as well as the salary of an employee who can help him with day-to-day operations.
The store is set to open on September 9, which marks a year after Lewis quit his previous job at another camera shop. Eventually, Lewis hopes to provide workshops and classes for other budding photographers. Lewis told TNS that it was important for him to give back and help younger photographers.
“I feel like it’s very important that we do teach the next generation because I feel like that’s going to be the ones who are up-and-coming, that are going to become better than me,” he said. “And that’s what I’m hoping to see. I want my legacy to be that I help people more than my, if you think my photos are remembered, honestly.”
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.