Q+A: Justin Lin, Brooklyn Central

Brooklyn Central (BKC) is a photo, video, and creative education center located in DUMBO. Their basic philosophy is simple: cut the crap. From hands-on classes in studio lighting and the analog darkroom, to lessons in Lightroom or how to use your DSLR, their smart approach and awesome teachers will help you learn something new, build on your creativity, and expand your goals. We sat down with Justin Lin to learn more.

A lot of people who come to BKC are working a job which doesn’t permit much creative activity... People are looking for more balance in their lives, and I feel that we try to give that to them through education, inspiration, and learning by doing.

Justin Lin, Founder of Brooklyn Central

How did you get started? What’s the history?

Well this floor has been an art space for over ten years. It started off as some painters and different artisans running the studios. Eventually, my occasional business partner Shawn Lyons started a gallery called Rabbithole. I was working with him on a curatorial measure, and I really enjoyed the artist development process— working with artists and helping them realize their vision. Originally BKC was conceived as a way to connect artists and to help them learn and share skills. But over time we found that more and more everyday New Yorkers have an interest in photography— which is my background— and they wanted to learn more about their cameras and basic photography skills. We became more focused on catering to all crowds. A lot of people who come to BKC are working a job which doesn’t permit much creative activity; this can cause the creative right brain to atrophy. People are looking for more balance in their lives, and I feel that we try to give that to them through education, inspiration, and learning by doing.

What’s your background in photography? What do you do?

For seven years I was working freelance shooting editorial and advertising campaigns. I focused mainly on fashion editorial and portraiture, but I did all kinds of different work, so that enabled me to base my initial curriculums around my experiences and the experiences of our early teachers who joined me on the journey toward making BKC a reality. Over time we’ve been trying to diversify what we are about by bringing in teachers from different photography backgrounds— adding a bit more flavor so to speak.

Why are you in DUMBO?

Cause’ it’s beautiful to photograph! It’s one of the most photographed places in New York by far. It has a constant daily traffic of people with cameras. You know that great scene: the Empire State Building perfectly encapsulated within the Manhattan Bridge. It’s just a beautiful place to be. The light is fantastic, the people are warm, and it has a history of art. We like working with the people here, especially our neighbors Creatively Wild who are focused on bringing fun and off-the-wall art education to young people. So it’s just been a really cool history and process. I’ve been here for over ten years and I don’t want to leave. This is a great place.

What are your favorite places in DUMBO?

I love Jane’s Carousel. That whole area by the waterfront is amazing. More than that, there is a great sense of liveliness and motion and people moving about and when the light changes it’s very dramatic. Vinegar Hill is a great place to shoot. I love the pizza spots up on pizza row— Old Fulton Street. I like to hit a different one each time and enjoy comparing them to each other. My favorite always changes; I’ve really liked Juliana’s pie lately. I’ve been going to Grimaldi’s for years, and when they moved to the new larger space it became a lot easier to get a table. I love Al Mar and Peas and Pickles; I’ve been going to Foragers a lot. I particularly like the Cuban sandwich with jalapenos at Pedro’s. That’s been my sandwich there for about ten years, so I recommend that pretty highly. I also like J bar— that place is pretty great for locals. I think DUMBO’s got a lot going for it.

What’s your favorite class to teach?

Hmm, there are so many I really enjoy. I really like doing iPhoneography workshops. It’s expanded to cover all smartphone photography at this point, because iPhones and Androids are pretty much on par in terms of spec. It’s the philosophy of it that’s really interesting. Doing more with less is a great mantra that I like to espouse upon my students. I like to challenge them to put their skills to the test and see how far they can take something within a given set of parameters. You’ll find that it allows people to focus, and get more out of what they’re really engaged with and what they’re learning.

There’s an idea in sociology called the Tyranny of Choice. The basic premise is that more options do not lead to more happiness, and can in fact lead to indecision or even misery. It’s like the difference between a 20-page menu at a diner versus a 1-page menu at a highly-curated restaurant. Often having too many choices can be debilitating, so it makes sense to try to “short-list” your decisions to just a few areas at a time.

Shooting with smartphones is a great example of doing more with less, since you don't have the fine-tuned control that you have with a traditional DSLR or other professional camera. Some of my favorite photographers are working exclusively with smartphones these days. So if you can really master that form— that medium— then that opens up so many different ways to play it. But you have to know what you’re working with. You have to know the tool and its limitations. If you can understand tool and learn to maximize it, then I feel you have a really good way to work.

Mentioned in this article

Creatively Wild Art Studio Jane's Carousel Juliana's AlMar Peas N' Pickles