An Interview With Daniel Shapiro

Brighton Beach may very well be the 5th ave equivalent of the beach world. There have been generations of great photography there that continues with photographers today. I've had the pleasure to get to know Daniel a little bit better this year and thought I'd highlight his work and pick his brain a little bit. Be sure to check out more images on his website.  

How did you get started with this project?

 I started photographing Brighton and a bit in Coney last summer, but it had been on my mind for some time. I’ve been coming to Brighton Beach since childhood, visiting family here. The generation that changed it into the Russian enclave that it is makes up the majority of the neighborhood and they’re getting up there in years. I’ve felt a drive to document Brighton while they’re still around, and also to show how things are slowly changing yet again. Then a few months back, Jonno Rattman (visuals editor of Newest York) asked me if I wanted to shoot a neighborhood dispatch and I knew that Brighton was going to be it. That was a really fun assignment. Now the plan is to keep shooting over there for a long time. I'll  try do a show of some kind, maybe make a small book, or just sell prints the old fashioned way through Instagram. 

If and when it does change, will it be worth documenting?

A man on the beach once told me that Brighton and all of Coney isn't changing because it already changed when the Russians came. That's 100% true but it's not the Brighton that I ever knew. It's a place that, for me, is sort of frozen in time. I think it will be worth documenting for as long as it's there. But I kind of feel that way about all of New York.   

Is the beach like a street corner?

The beach is very wardobe specific, but it’s always exciting to see something way out of the norm. Just as much if not more so than on Fifth Ave. No one is in a hurry out on the beach, which is great if i'm taking a portrait. During the week there’s always fewer photographers out there, so it’s nice to feel like I have Brighton to myself, from time to time. That never happens in the city.   

What is more rewarding to you, the process or the results? 

Taking a photograph and being surprised when it works out is sometimes of equal excitement, but with this series, it’s been a real pleasure to send scans to people, or bring prints to the older ones.


It’s difficult and exciting to take an interesting photograph of a stranger no matter where you go.

Have you gotten any reactions from your subjects when you show them a print?

Normally they say that they didn't expect to see me again and then thank me. They follow that up with a story about when they were young in Odessa or when they served in the army, or something like that. The most memorable situation was when I took one woman's photo last summer and gave her my number. She called me a lot, telling me that she wanted a big print but that her husband was a rough guy and couldn't know about it, and would I come over with it when he wasn't around. I wasn't sure what to do with that one. I still owe her a print.   

Do you have any photographic rituals?

While on the train to shoot in Brighton I listen to Russian songs that I remember from growing up. Songs heard on rides to school or on roadtrips with my parents. I get some food on the boardwalk and people watch for a bit. Then I just rotate between shooting on the beach and the boardwalk. Sometimes I take a shot and keep moving. Other times I see someone and I really want a portrait so I talk for a minute. It’s important for me to have a mix of both. 


Are there any challenges of shooting on the beach versus another part of NYC?

It’s difficult and exciting to take an interesting photograph of a stranger no matter where you go. You wish they all understood that you’re not mocking them when you put a camera in their face. Sometimes even more so when they're older or wearing a bathing suit. Part of my Brighton Beach experience is that most of the time i'm aware when I’m taking pictures of Russians and can speak their language. That makes it easy to ask for forgiveness. That or I explain where my parents are from and then they usually let me take their picture. That doesn’t happen in other parts of the city. If someone is really pissed then it turns into a whole other thing but that's rare. Most times a smile and a thank you in passing will work just fine. 

Anything else you'd like to say?

I appreciate you asking me about my love of photographing the Brooklyn beach scene

Me too-- Make sure to check Daniel out:


Daniel (@danielshapiro) is a photographer from Cleveland, Ohio now living in Brooklyn, New York. He has shot for Noisey, CFDA, Lufthansa USA, City of NY, Aftenposten, Ultra Records, Malibu Magazine and others. He looks forward to meeting you and your camera out on the streets.