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Photos: FREE FILM : NYC – LES Wraps Up

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We checked back in with Destiny Mata and the crew at FREE FILM : NYC-LES after their monthlong project offering free roles of film to local residents and students wrapped up. People interested in documenting their neighborhood were encouraged to pick up a free role of film distributed at an “Airstream-darkroom” parked outside the Lower Eastside Girl’s club last month. After shooting their photos around the neighborhood, they had the option to drop the film back off for processing.

photo by Carlos de la Sancha

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, taught a series of workshops for the girls as part of their Spring 2023 after school program. The participating students focused on Avenue D for their photo projects.

Destiny Mata, leading a photo walk. Photo by Carlos de la Sancha

Mata and one of the FREE FILM Program Leads, Carlos de la Sancha, shared some of their favorite images from the project with us.

Sharice Vadon learned how to focus the pentax k1000 in the free film airstream. photo by Destiny Mata
Summer Cruz printing her photos in the dark room. photo by Destiny Mata
Portrait of Rosa Lee Rodriguez and her daughters Sundae and Summer Cruz inside the airstream. photo by Destiny Mata

Mata wrote in an email:

“The highlights for me [included] having the opportunity to share Free Films mobile airstream darkroom with my neighbors and students from The LES Girls Club, Dorill Initiative, and City As High School. It’s not everyday you have access to a free darkroom on Avenue D! 
I dedicated my artist in residence to my community led with love, care, and respect for the Lower East Side.  

The airstream felt like a photo club house and became a community darkroom.

(I’m grateful to my photo community for volunteering their time in the darkroom: Zero, Roxana Hurtado, Carlos De La Sancha, Roy Baizan, Sinjun Strom, Lou Dembrow, Wendy Correa, Kamal Badhey, Mollie Serena, and Roman Primitivo Alvear.)  

With the door propped open, curious folks from the neighborhood wondered, “what’s inside?” 

The airstream was inviting, with photos hanging on the walls made by many first time film photographers. The space was intimate. I heard many stories about what it was like to grow up in Alphabet City from my elders. 

The LES Girls Club high school photography class focused on Avenue D, where they made portraits and interviewed activists, artists, and families along with documenting a community event at Wald Houses.

Our middle school class photographed and interviewed [people at the] local business, Don Juan’s barber shop, on 4th and avenue C. 

The power of photography also brought families together. There were two mothers I worked closely with, Rosa Lee Rodriguez and Nadia Ramnarine along with their children. The two dedicated mothers spent most of the month in the airstream learning the process of developing their film, and printing.

This experience was life changing. I feel connected on a deeper level to the place I call home the Lower East Side.”

Mata also shared the news that the Lower East Side Girls Club will be in residence at Governors Island this summer. Work from her residency and the overall project will be exhibited at the Lower East Side Girls Club Memory Lab  – Governors Island, House #408.

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