Q+A: Dave Shelley of UPI

DUMBO-based arts organization United Photo Industries (UPI) seeks to produce unique photo installations and exhibits to expose fresh talent and connect with a diverse audience through photography. If you’ve seen “super(heroes)” under the Manhattan Bridge, "Geolocation” on Washington Street, or  “The Fence” in Brooklyn Bridge Park, then you’ve seen UPI’s work! They’re also the team behind Photoville, the largest annual photography event in New York City consisting of over 50 exhibitions, talks, workshops, and multimedia projections. Here, DUMBO BID intern Caroline Reichert chats with UPI co-founder Dave Shelley about the inspiration behind United Photo Industries.

Tell me about United Photo Industries.

Dave:Sam, Laura, Gilbert, and I came together in 2011 at the DUMBO Arts Festival. I came up with the concept for our first show while in the shower: seven shows in seven days. How crazy can you get? Every day, we had a hanging, an opening, and a cocktail party. Then, we took it down, Sam and I patched the walls, and we did it all again the next day. It was intense. Up until last year, we were doing a new show every month to coordinate it with the First Thursday Art Walk. Then we started branching into other things. Around the same time, we had an opportunity with Brooklyn Bridge Park, after President Regina Myer saw us at the DUMBO Arts Festival. Within 2-3 months, we put together the first Photoville. From there, we started “The Fence,” which is currently up in Brooklyn Bridge Park. This is becoming our niche in the neighborhood. We currently have the “super(heroes)” fence under the Manhattan Bridge. We have “Geolocation” on Washington. We’re in our second year now of doing photo installations on three of the East River ferry boats. We have an outdoor exhibit on Wall Street. It's very hectic. Every day is a hustle. But it's going well and we are producing stellar work.

What do you think photography brings to the table that other forms of visual arts cannot?

Dave: Photography allows you to enter a world that you don’t have to be present in. It’s the ability to see what’s happening around the world from any location: your computer screen, an art gallery, or an outdoor installation. We’re such visual people that I think it’s the easiest way to connect.

Where does the inspiration for your exhibits come from?

Dave: Driving, shower, or conversations with people. We usually say, “What if we try to do this? What about this idea?” We’re our own creative hub where we bounce ideas off of each other. We’re also trying to have fun and enjoy ourselves. For example, Sam recently curated a show featuring Brooklyn photographer Jerry Vezzuso. The photos were personal photos from the artist’s life and a lot of them had food in them. For the closing, we tried to duplicate a table setting from one of the photos: we set a table up with a red table cloth, sandwiches, homemade lasagna, bread, cannolis, and red wine. We ended up having this big afternoon lunch party while we were closing the show. We try to find unique ways to get people attached to the work and to have an experience aside from just looking at it.

What do you enjoy about working in DUMBO?

Dave: Seeing the people that I know and love in this community every day. I feel like I’m really home every time I come here. For me, the great memories I have are of some of the really unique events we’ve been able to do here like Photoville and the Dumbo Arts Festival. We did an outstanding exhibit showcasing photos of the Arab Spring right after the uprisings in the Middle East. We had a four-projector screening of never-before-seen photos of this unrest with a DJ spinning live to match the images all under the Archway.

One of the great things about Dumbo is its limited geographic footprint, which helps build the community. Since I’ve been coming here, there’s always more public art that is constantly on display than any other place in all of the boroughs. People respect the art; it’s not graffitied or defaced. It really adds a colorful flavor to this community.


Meet the UPI team: Laura Roumanos, Sam Barzilay, Gilbert, and Dave Shelley.

To learn more about United Photo Industries, please check out their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.