Most One-Hour Photos closed in the ‘90s, but if there’s anywhere a new analog photography store could thrive, it’s Brooklyn. Located at 1717 Broadway, Photodom, a Black-owned analog photography store that processes, sells, and develops film, and gives out monthly grants to aspiring photographers, has flourished thanks to support from its surrounding community. The shop was founded by Dominick Lewis, a photographer whose love for the craft now resides in brick and mortar in the heart of East Brooklyn.
Photodom’s story, or rather, Lewis’, begins shortly after his high school graduation. Lewis was born in Brooklyn but spent many of his formative years growing up in West Palm Beach, Florida. After buying his first camera at the age of 18 as a graduation gift to himself, Lewis went off to Drexel University in Philadelphia to study electrical engineering, and took his camera with him.
“What started as a hobby quickly became a passion,” Lewis explains. “I would take my camera on my walks around Philly, photographing the people I saw. Street photography was my first subject, but I slowly started to document a lot of the social issues that went on around Philly too.”
With a mounting collection of images, Lewis created what can be considered an early precursor to Photodom, called Internet Alias. The IG page quickly grew into a brand, and a community.
“I started out making clothing and accessories; T-shirts, sweaters, mugs, and simple small accessories … things that photographers would love,” says Lewis. Lewis felt that the photography equipment that was out there was created for an older generation, and a different demographic. "Internet Alias started out filling that gap, and Photodom continues to do the same today.”
After two years of building Alias on the side, Lewis dropped out of college to pursue photography full-time. “As I got older, I realized I needed to pursue things that fulfill me and make me happy, not just for the money. And photography was that for me,” he explains.
So Lewis moved back to Palm Beach, where he spent three years attempting to make his small but growing online business into something more tangible. At 21, he opened Palm Beach Photo Studio. Lewis admits that at the time, he didn't have the business knowledge, and he had to shut the shop down following a dispute with the landlord after a community event. But Lewis attributes his success with Photodom to all the experience gained along the way. “You learn a lot more from your failures than your success,” he says. “The things you fail at linger longer in your mind.”
A year after closing up, Lewis moved back to New York. And in 2020, he officially opened Photodom, taking everything he learned from Internet Alias and Palm Beach Photo Studio—plus all the odd jobs in between—and applying it to his current business model. Over 100 people came to the store on the first day, and many more in the following weeks. Since then, the shop has become a hub for local photographers, and Lewis strives to give back to the community that has continued to support him since the beginning.
We recently spoke with Lewis about running an analog photo shop, diversity in the photography industry, and more.
What services do you offer at Photodom?
I had a vision of what Photodom would look like on a small scale and didn’t imagine how big it would get, even now. I didn’t think processing and developing film would be something we would do, but now it’s one of our most-used services. We sell clothing, cameras, and offer gear rentals too, but we are growing to fit the needs of the people within our neighborhoods. We plan to do workshops and classes in the future. But, ultimately, we want to listen to those that come to the shop the most and be able to provide the services the community wants to see.
What is the monthly Photodom Grant Program?
The Photodom Grant Program is a project-based initiative open to any photographer 18 or older. We offer $1,000 a month to those who are looking for support with their project. We look for unique ideas, projects that can speak to a larger audience, and projects with meaning.
What voice do you aspire to have as a Black-owned business within your community?
I hope what we’re doing at Photodom inspires others to do the same, to keep leaning towards your community because your community will continue to support you. I only hope to continue to be a voice and a hub for photographers in my neighborhood.
Can you speak about your own experience with the lack of diversity and accessibility in the photography industry?
Lack of diversity in the industry is a hindrance. It disconnects people and denies them the access to tell their stories properly. Racial profiling, or profiling based on the way we look, is another problem. We have a lot of rejects in East Brooklyn; people are different, edgy, weird, and cool, but people downplay their expertise because of the way they look.
I’ve even experienced this personally. I’d walk into B&H, [a popular NYC Photography store], and even though I already know my stuff, I would get looked at weirdly for browsing higher-end cameras, like I don’t belong there. It doesn’t feel good, and it’s not right. At Photodom, we create an atmosphere that anyone can walk into and feel comfortable, seasoned photographers and unseasoned photographers. Everyone has to start somewhere, and if we welcome them with open arms, they’ll never forget that and keep coming back.
"I want to be able to have something that memorializes the history of these neighborhoods."
What's your idea of what it means to be successful?
Dropping out of college made me hone in on what I truly wanted to be doing and not just follow what others say is a good thing to be doing. It reaffirmed my purpose. Trust your gut. No one can live your life for you. Pursue what you want to do, and if you are passionate about it, you will make it. It might be tomorrow or 30 years from now, but if you are passionate, then there are at least 10 other people that are passionate about it too, and that is where you can build an audience, and from there a customer base, then a community. You don't need to have a billion customers, it can be the same 100 people who return every single month, and that’s all you need. I still believe that today.
Are there any projects you are currently working on?
I have an ongoing personal project called Document Brooklyn. The goal is to be able to document and preserve the historic nature of Brooklyn, which is always changing. I shoot a lot of pre-gentrified neighborhoods. In Flatbush, where I’m from, the neighborhood is on the crux of pre-gentrification. Buildings, businesses, etc. are all changing as we speak. I’m photographing to preserve that neighborhood for what it is because it’s going to change inevitably and when it does I want to be able to have something that memorializes the history.