Vito Badamo is a rare breed of Williamsburg artist. He’s not from the Midwest. He doesn’t shop at Brooklyn Industries or listen to indie rock. He doesn’t even order beers that have initials. He actually hails from the neighborhood, and this week became the latest photographer to exhibit at Graham Avenue coffee shop Beaner Bar.
Born in 1991, Badamo grew up in a neighborhood without condos, art galleries or clothing boutiques. There wasn’t much to do, in fact, except for sports, whether skateboarding, playing football at McCarren Park or basketball at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. The Frost Street resident remembers the Williamsburg of his childhood as a family-oriented community where everyone knew each other by name. “It had a homey feeling,” recalled Badamo. “It was friendly ‘cause generations grew up with generations. Your best friend’s father would be best friends with your father, you know?”
By 2005, however, Williamsburg saw a dramatic rise in gentrification that had begun as far back as the 80s. On May 11, the city passed a massive rezoning of the Northside and the Greenpoint waterfront, leading to an explosion of residential development and a large influx of artists priced out of Manhattan. As the neighborhood transformed into a hub of creativity, Badamo discovered he had a talent for photography while bar hopping. “I got into taking photos while hanging out with a friend named Arazmis,” he said. “He’s an event photographer who would take pictures at parties just so he could remember what the hell happened. He was my first teacher.”
When Badamo started attending Borough of Manhattan Community College in 2009, he took an introductory class in photography and found himself hooked. He applied for an advanced course next semester, and haunted museums and galleries around the city. Among his inspirations are photographers who have captured the grit and unique flavor of urban New York, such as Alfred Stieglitz, Bruce Davidson, and Rebecca Lepkoff. “I really like how Davidson captured gangs and the subway in the 70s and 80s,” Badamo said. “Lepkoff does fantastic work, especially considering she’s a woman going into the ghetto.”
Badamo applies to the same approach to his native North Brooklyn. On Tuesday, June 5th, he installed his first exhibit at Beaner Bar. Entitled “The Last of a Dying Breed,” the richly detailed collection preserves an urban landscape quickly disappearing into memory. One picture peers into an old-style bodega with heaps of products of stacked behind a glass counter. Others reflect the continuing change of his community, such as shot of a group of cranes from across the new Newtown Creek Nature Walk – a backdrop of the community’s industrial past. “It’s like making a textbook of where I’m from,” said the homegrown shutterbug. “A lot of the places you see have already begun to be renovated. They’ll be gone soon.”
Many of the pictures reflect a nuanced view of gentrification. “It pushes up the rent so a lot of the original people are driven out,” Badamo admitted. “But on the other hand, the neighborhood’s cleaner, more artistic and it’s brought in a lot of money.” He also enjoys the increasing diversity of Williamsburg. “It’s opened up to new cultures. I mean, I grew up with just Italians. Now the whole place is like a little Manhattan.”
Especially enthralling to Badamo are the limitless possibilities of his newfound craft. “Every photo is unique, and every photographer’s eye is different,” he said. “The reaction people get when you take a picture of them can’t be replicated.” Future projects include learning how to develop film photography and exploring urban areas in cities like Detroit and New Orleans.
The exhibit will run until the 6th of next month, and provides a preview of an upcoming solo show at 17 Frost Theater of the Arts in 2013. All photos are for sale (the 5×7s are $40 and the 8×10s, $75). For more information, email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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