Jacob Riis Houses reflection along the East River Park. Lower East Side, New York, 2013. Photo by Destiny Mata

WORTHLESSSTUDIOS, a Brooklyn-based arts non-profit is partnering with The Lower Eastside Girls Club to bring an interesting ongoing project, FREE FILM : NYC, to the neighborhood this month. The project is documenting communities throughout the city by offering free 35mm film and processing to anyone interested in photographing their neighborhood — the OG way.

WORTHLESSSTUDIOS travels around in their “Airstream-darkroom” and takes up residency in a given neighborhood for a month at a time. The Lower East Side portion kicks off this Friday, March 10, 2023 from 3pm – 5pm, at The LES Girls Club on East 8th Street. FREE FILM : NYC will be on location there through April 9, 2023. Participants are encouraged to stop by and pick up a roll of film, or a point-and-shoot camera, and return it for processing after they have taken photos of their neighborhood.

Throughout the four weeks of the program, photographer Destiny Mata, The LES Girls Club’s photography instructor and artist-in-residence for the FREE FILM:NYC – Lower East Side segment, is teaching a series of workshops for the girls as part of their Spring 2023 after school program. The participating students will be focusing on Avenue D for their photo projects.

Community art event at Baruch Houses. Lower East Side, New York, 2022. Photo by Destiny Mata

We spoke with Destiny Mata and Katherine Cooper, director of programs at WORTHLESSSTUDIOS, about the FREE FILM:NYC initiative:

Destiny grew up in the neighborhood, along FDR and East 6th Street, so she has seen the neighborhood change dramatically. She started working at the LES Girls Club in 2017 and told us she is excited about the connection with Free Film and the month-long program. “It gives a voice to the folks who live here, in the LES, through photography – especially with analog photography, because everything is so instant and digital, these days,” she said. “To be able to pause and stop and really reflect on our surroundings – this gives us the opportunity to reconnect, with a slower pace and to see ourselves in a new way.”

Photo by Federica Fortunato, from the FREE FILM Redhook project.

Katherine explained her work with WORTHLESSSTUDIOS as a way to gives artists tools and resources to help them realize their creative visions. The 1st iteration of the FREE FILM : NYC program was on Canal Street in 2018. There was one in Red Hook. They also did a national version of the project during the pandemic, after retrofitting their Airstream and creating a dark room, they drove across the country, visiting 17 different cities, and received over 1400 rolls of film back. At the end of every segment, the team publishes selected photos from each neighborhood and prints a book.

During the month of March, there will be scheduled Photo Walk events, led by different photographers, including Destiny. Right now, she’s teaching girls at the LES Girls Club how to print and develop their own film in the Airstream, outside of their classroom, calling it “an at large LES community photo affair.”

Katherine emphasized, “We don’t want folks that don’t have access to a camera to feel like this is not for them. We’re really trying to figure out ways to get cameras in folks hands, so we will provide cameras to people who want to sign up, even if you’ve never experimented with film photography or you used to use it a long time ago, we want to continue to make this as accessible to as many people as possible.”