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Coney Island’s Steeplechase Pier is a popular spot for fishing and diving as well as for people-watching and photography. For photographer Kevin C Downs, who spends his summers running an annual photo documentary workshop at Coney Island USA, the pier is a magnet. His photos and video capture the daredevil spirit of the pier divers, who defy the “No Diving” signs for the thrill of the jump. Says one teenager: “It’s like…the adrenalin rush. It’s high. It’s better than going on any rides. It’s cheaper than Six Flags.”

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Coney Island, Ruby's, Mermaid Day Parade 2007. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Coney Island, Ruby's, Mermaid Day Parade 2007. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Kevin Downs’ annual summer photo documentary workshop at Coney Island USA began earlier this month, but there’s still time to join. Consider it your passport to see Coney in a new light all summer long. The Saturday sessions, which continue through September 4, generally begin with a review at noon in the Coney Island Museum and go through the evening. Tuition is a very reasonable $300. From the course description:

Throughout its history, Coney Island has drawn many famous photographers: from Walker Evans to Weegee; Lou Stettner to Bruce Gilden. All have come to document this part of Brooklyn that is full of energy and creativity.

During this workshop, students will be documenting the changing conditions of this historic and magical place. Students will be shooting during the day and night, the icons of Coney Island: the Cyclone, Deno’s Wonder Wheel, the Mermaid Parade, and the personalities that inhabit the Boardwalk and the surrounding areas, from the water to Mermaid Avenue, developing their powers of observaton and their techniques.

Students will be asked to think of a specific documentary theme to focus on for the entire 14 sessions. Some examples could include: “The People of Coney Island”, “Architecture of Coney Island”, etc. The documentary theme can be anything that tells a story and documents the people, architecture and/or landscape of Coney Island. All themes must be approved by the instructor.

Coney Island, The Zipper from The Last Days of Coney Island and The Real Brooklyn. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Coney Island, The Zipper from The Last Days of Coney Island and The Real Brooklyn. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Full disclosure: Kevin Downs as well as workshop participants Bruce Handy and Suzy Lafferty are friends of ATZ. We’ve learned a lot about photography from looking at their flickr photostreams and have selected their photos for our magazine articles and blog posts.

Coney Island resident and ATZ contributor Bruce Handy has taken Kevin’s class for the past three seasons and has assembled an impressive flickr set of his favorite photos from the workshop. “Kevin is an excellent teacher who brings 125% to the table,” says Bruce.  “Our classes last year included field trips to see famous photographers, among them Louis Stettner.  At least four times last year prominent photographers were guest lecturers at our class.  Kevin arranges all this with joy.  Kevin is a champion of Coney Island.  He brings out the best in people.  He is a very humble person, a passionate, natural teacher.”

Coney Island. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Coney Island. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Suzy Lafferty’s photos from the 2009 workshop appear on her blog Satsuma’s Junkyard, beginning with the Coney Island Dancers in Coney #1 and ending with a couple kissing at twilight on Henderson Walk. Says Suzy: “After having gone to grad school for photojournalism, a rather mummifying experience, Kevin’s workshop helped me to resurrect my love of photography: the search and the longing and the state of being that defines documentary photography for me.”

On the Boardwalk, Coney Island. Photo © Kevin C Downs

On the Boardwalk, Coney Island. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Suzy describes the Coney Island Workshop: “We would gather and talk about photography for hours, often losing track of time, and then we would set out in droves or make solitary rounds of the candy apples, the atlantic splash zone, or the boardwalk, seeking our moments or following a story.  The class was the rarest of finds.  It’s dimensions stretch three months in length, it costs close to nothing, and the hours each Saturday are sprawling.  Many times Kevin stayed out with us until midnight, roaming and combing the night for twisted and heartfelt tales.”

For info contact Kevin C Downs at kevincdownsphoto@mac.com or 917-607-3935. Kevin’s website is kevincdownsphoto.com. You can register online at Coney Island USA’s website.

Coney Island, 2008. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Coney Island, 2008. Photo © Kevin C Downs

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January 2, 2010: Photo Album: Coney Island Boardwalk, New Year’s Day 2010

December 20, 2009: Coney Island Photo of the Day: First Snow on the Cyclone

June 22, 2009: A Judge’s Photo Album of the 2009 Coney Island Mermaid Parade

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