As part of our Q&A series, Morningsider brings you exclusive interviews with neighborhood “Insiders.” This week, we interview Harlem photographer, Lenore Browne.
Lenore Browne is a native New Yorker and has resided in Harlem for over 30 years. Upon receiving her first manual film camera after her high school graduation, Lenore grew a passion for taking photos and creating black and white prints. Although she went on to receive business degrees in college, Lenore fully committed to photography in 2007.
Lenore’s photographs were first publically displayed in a juried competition in May 2009 for the “Contemporary Expressions” exhibit at the Pen and Brush Gallery in Greenwich Village. One month later, she debuted her first solo exhibit at Café One in Harlem, where she displayed a variety of her landscape and urban landscape photographs.
Since then, Lenore’s photographs have been displayed in many different solo and group exhibitions across New York City. In January 2011, Lenore was presented with the “Arts and Action Award” from the Harlem Arts Alliance for her “outstanding efforts to increase awareness through the arts.” Her most recent bodies of work called “Portrait of Harlem” and “Harlem Stroll” aim to document the urban and natural environment of Harlem in a transitional period, coined the “second renaissance.”
Questions For Lenore Browne
1. Tell us about your collections, Portrait of Harlem and Harlem Stroll.
Portrait of Harlem and Harlem Stroll are my collection of black and white photographs of Harlem using film and printed in a traditional darkroom. As a resident of Harlem since the 80’s, I saw just how much it was changing. My passion for photography and darkroom printing had peaked and I was able to devote more of my time to it, so, I decided to document Harlem at this time of transition and create a body of work about the second Renaissance. I had a clear vision to show how the past and present co-exist at this time and realized how important it was to present and preserve the image history of Harlem from this point of view– before it was lost forever.
2. What or who inspired you to become a photographer?
As a kid, it seemed that I would always receive the latest Kodak camera—the instamatic, Polaroid, 110 film cameras with flash bulbs and even some with flash cubes, and so on. I was particularly encouraged by an uncle who saw one of my pictures of the Disney castle and remarked about the wonderful composition. I had the interest already and this inspired me even more to continue my photography as a hobby. Although I obtained academic business degrees, I always had a passion for photography and continued to shoot. Once introduced to the traditional darkroom, black and white photography became a strong interest of mine. As a self-taught photographer with a career in other areas, I took a lot of pictures of whatever interested me, flowers, gardens and the New York City landscape.
3. What characteristics of Harlem give you the inspiration for you photographs?
I love the historical and architectural treasures of Harlem that maintain and reveal the essence of Harlem and its history as the cultural hub of the African Diaspora. I was inspired to capture images of Harlem realizing how quickly and dramatically it is changing. My intention is to capture and preserve images of Harlem and its essence at this time where the past and present coexist.
4. What is your preference in terms of photography subject? Portraits, landscapes, etc.?
I love the outdoors and shooting landscapes. As a Harlem resident, I use the urban landscape as a way to capture the people in this evolving and dynamic Village of Harlem.
5. Do you have a personal favorite photograph you’ve taken?
I have several, but my all-time favorite images are Sunlit Walk and Morning Stroll. These images crystallized my vision of the images I sought to obtain when I photograph Harlem. I try to softly reveal the qualities of living in Harlem at this time and capture its essence in a subtle way.
6. Where can readers see your work in person?
Some of my black and white images of Harlem are presently installed at the new restaurant called the “Corner Social” on 126th Street and Lenox Avenue. You may also visit my website at portraitofharlem.coimage.net where I post upcoming exhibits and contact information. I recently completed a three-month solo exhibit at the Columbia University School of the Arts’ gallery spaces in the Russ Barrie and Lasker Buildings on St. Nicholas Avenue on 168th and 166th Streets, respectively. Portrait of Harlem was initially presented at several Harlem branches of the New York Public Library, including Countee Cullen, George Bruce and the Hamilton Grange.
7. What is your favorite Harlem hot spot?
That is a difficult question and honestly, I don’t have one favorite hot spot. I enjoy Harlem’s vibrancy– from the street vendors, cultural and arts institutions, diverse people, restaurants and architecture. But, if I had to name one, it would be the Harlem Arts Alliance monthly meetings, which provide my inspiration. They are held on the first Monday of every month at the Riverside Church Theatre, where the arts and cultural community meets to share information about upcoming events, opportunities, performances and exhibitions in Harlem and for presentations from artists in every field.
8. Anything else you would like to add?
Keep watching my work. My body of work, which started as Portrait of Harlem and then Harlem Stroll, is a work-in-progress that will continue to develop and grow. I have no specific direction at this time but it will evolve as Harlem is evolving in this second Harlem Renaissance.