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The heart of Coney Island beats at Bond Street Gallery

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With its crisp, bright walls adorned by images of a Coney Island from yesteryear and its finished brickwork, it’s hard to picture the image photographer Robert DiScalfani found when happening upon 297 Bond Street in August of last year.

“It was an absolute mess,” remembers DiScalfani of the 100-year-old townhouse in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn, abandoned and unkempt for several years. “If you had seen this place beforehand you would have thought I was nuts for wanting to open up a gallery here.”

But, along with his business partner, photography agent Bruce Kramer, he did.

Last month, The Bond Street Gallery opened its inaugural exhibit, “Coney Island of the Heart,” a collection of photographer Harold Feinstein's images of Coney Island, which runs until May 8. The show also includes images of the “People's Playground” by Bruce Davidson, Bruce Gilden, Sid Grossman, Harold Roth and Henri Silberman taken from as early as the 1920s and spanning 70 years.

Following in the footsteps of several exhibits of Coney Island photography before it, including the Brooklyn Museum's “Goodbye Coney Island?”, “Coney Island of the Heart” captures a very playful and nostalgic Coney Island.

“Bruce and I wanted the first show to be about Brooklyn,” says DiScalfani. “What better way to kick it off than a Brooklyn theme?”

The two also thought it would be good because of all the questions surrounding Coney Island, as charged a neighborhood as any in Brooklyn.

“I've talked with people at Coney Island,” says DiScalfani, who has taken his own images of the neighborhood in a photography book he is developing called Three Mornings in Brooklyn. “A lot of people are there who have been going there since their childhood. They're really really distraught over the fact that it's going to be taken down, especially for a few pieces that are going to change drastically.”

While questions about its future charge conversation about Coney Island today, “Coney Island of the Heart” is all about nostalgia. Feinstein's images beautifully and elegantly capture the carefree attitude of baby boomer youth in photographs such as “Blanket Toss” (1955) and “Coney Island Teenagers” (1949), while Bruce Davidson's stylistic images, on the other hand, show a fiercer element with his Brooklyn gang photographs from the late 1950s.

Interspersed among the mostly black and white images of iconic Coney Island, from the Parachute Drop to the Cyclone, are also more modern Brooklyn images by Henri Silberman, including “Trolley Tracks” (1997) and “Brooklyn Bridge Fog” (1993), which, though more current, also hint at a certain nostalgia in their black and white capturing of romantic industrial images.

The first photography gallery for the neighborhood, DiScalfani sees his and Kramer's initiative as “a pioneer venture” for a neighborhood that is undergoing change as well, both in terms of development and culturally. About a year ago, DiScalfani moved his own photography practice to the neighborhood, a few blocks away from the gallery, as well as from “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” director Julian Schnabel's studio.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity for this area,” says DiScalfani. “This is not Chelsea. It's a little difficult seeing fine art in this area. There's really nothing except a few stores on Atlantic Avenue.”

DiScalfani and Kramer are also open to having work by local artists shown on their walls.

“Getting shows is not an easy thing,” says the photographer. “Artists in general have a hard time getting an exhibit anywhere. We thought it would be a great opportunity to...also give photography not only to local people, but anyone that comes up with some work that we feel is credible to hang it in the gallery.”

As more entrepreneurs look into abandoned buildings and see not a hopeless mess, but the potential for a beautiful art space, DiScalfani sees more galleries cropping up in the industrial area.

“It's a great opportunity to spread the wealth a little bit and give people a chance to take a look at other work just down the street,” says DiScalfani. “We think it's better when there's more.”

“Coney Island of the Heart” runs at the Bond Street Gallery (297 Bond Street) through May 8. For more information, call 718-858-2297 or go to

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