By Raanan Gebrerer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Coney Island has long been a photographer’s paradise, from the era of the grand hotels before World War I, to the amusement area’s heyday as a destination for working-class New Yorkers from the 1920s through the 1950s, to its current rebirth.
While Coney Island has captured the imagination of professional photographers worldwide, Coney Island USA is sponsoring an exhibit featuring five photographers who live in or near Coney year-round. They shoot the amusement area not only during the summer months, but during the winter as well.
“A Stroll Through Coney Island Among Friends” will be open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from Feb. 22 to April 6 at the Shooting Gallery, Arts Annex, 1214 Surf Ave.
In the exhibit, the photographers capture many sides of Coney Island -- the Wonder Wheel, the Parachute Jump, swimmers taking a dip in the ocean, the Mermaid Parade, the Cyclone roller coaster and more.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle spoke to two of the photographers who are taking part in the exhibit.
Kenny Lombardi, who works in the finance department of a law firm during the day but who shoots events for Coney Island USA in his spare time, says, “I’ve basically been calling Coney Island my stomping grounds for the past few years. When I was growing up in the late 1960s and early ’70s, my grandfather took me there. As I got a little older, I didn’t go there, but I reintroduced myself back into Coney six or seven years ago.
“Because I’ve been hanging out here so long,” he says, “I know everybody. I know all the Sideshows at the Seashore staff because I shoot their events, I know the family who owns the Wonder Wheel. When Luna Park came into being, I extended myself to them as well, and I know all the staff.” Lombardi doesn’t live in Coney, but lives fairly nearby in Dyker Heights.
Bruce Handy, also a member of Coney Island USA, lives across from the New York Aquarium. He grew up in Flushing, and moved to Coney when he met his wife, who already lived there. “When I walk out of my apartment I see the Cyclone, Parachute Jump and amusement area every single day,” he says.
Although Coney Island has changed in the past 10 years, Handy is attracted to what he calls “the old-time Coney Institutions” – the sideshow, the Mermaid Parade, the Wonder Wheel, the Cyclone, the Parachute Jump and the Polar Bears. In fact, he joined the Polar Bears last year after photographing them for five years.
“I’m a street photographer,” he says, “and I try to capture people in their natural space.” Although Handy, who works for an engineering firm, takes photos throughout the city, those in the exhibit were all taken in Coney Island. “There are a wide variety of people there – a microcosm of New York City.”
The other three photographers are:
* Norman Blake. Like Lombardi, he started going to Coney Island with his grandfather and went on rides at the famed Steeplechase Park, which closed in 1964. A photojournalist since the 1970s, he became involved with Coney Island in the late 1980s after he attended a Mermaid Parade where he met “Bambi the Mermaid” and “The Great Federini.” He is now a house photographer at Coney Island USA.
* Jim McDonnell. He didn’t grow up in Brooklyn, but he grew up hearing about Coney Island from his father, aunts and uncles, all of whom grew up in the borough. After he moved to New York City in the early 1990s, he became visiting Coney on a regular basis. Eventually, he became a member of the Polar Bear Club and moved closer to Coney Island so it could play a larger part in his life.
* Eric Kowalsky. Unlike the others, he is a native Coney Islander. He is inspired by his grandfather, Abe Feinstein, who is also a photographer and has photographed Coney Island for 50 years. Eric is the youngest artist in this exhibition.
An opening reception will place Saturday, Feb. 22 from noon-5 p.m. For more information, visit www.coneyisland.com