When Dominick Lewis finished high school, he bought himself a camera as a graduation present. Heavily influenced by microblog Tumblr, which was popular in the early 2010s, he wanted to learn how to take the type of photos that were a hit on the social platform. ‘I remember getting back my senior pictures and thinking I could probably do them better,’ he says.
Photography soon became his obsession. So much so that, at one point during his studies, he decided he needed to make a choice between getting his degree in electrical engineering from Drexel University or professionally pursuing photography. ‘I'd be studying and would keep playing with my camera, and then try to study more, but I'd watch camera tutorials instead. At one point, I thought something had to give: either quit college or quit photography. I chose the former.’
Now, 10 years after making that decision, he owns and runs Photodom, a store in Brooklyn, New York, that specializes in all things film and photography. It's named after the Instagram moniker that he created years ago.
The path from dropping out of college in Philadelphia to opening a film shop in Brooklyn wasn't simple. When Dominick left school, he moved back to his hometown of Palm Beach, Florida, and quickly realized there was no home base for photography lovers in the area. He opened a space and would host events and classes to bring the community together.
Dominick then started focusing on two things: teaching himself how to develop his own film due to the lack of film shops in the area, and growing his social media pages. ‘I found that the type of people who would gravitate towards my work online were other photographers, rather than models or influencers or brands, so I decided to create a Photodom brand specifically for other photographers,’ he says.
‘I didn't feel that any of the existing photography brands catered to the younger demographic of photographers that maybe didn't have the disposable income to spend more than $150 on a camera bag.’ So, he started producing his own Photodom products, things like T-shirts, bags and photography accessories to appeal to young people interested in photography like himself. This new brand creation precipitated his move to New York. ‘I feel like New York has a bigger arena of photographers, so it was necessary to be here.’
When the pandemic hit, Dominick decided that it was finally a good time to start developing film for others. He never offered it as a service before because it felt like a huge responsibility having people entrusting him with their art and work.
Right when Dominick launched this service was about the same time that the Black Lives Matter protests began across the US. He spent the first three months in the streets every single day meeting people and taking photos. ‘It was a really important time that's probably never going to happen again on that scale so I wanted to be out there and really see what was going on and tell the story the way it should be told.’
A shop to call their own
This led him to meet and connect with even more photographers and artists who were also looking for a space to call their own. ‘I want to create a store that really caters to a younger audience, but also people who don't tend to get noticed as much. So, I launched a GoFundMe with a goal of $30,000, which was reached in three days. The campaign helped stock the store with inventory and make it into what I envisioned it to be.’
The store – which is housed in a multipurpose loft that's shared with a mix of businesses, from salons and art studios to a comedy club – has had more than 4,500 customers since opening, with a 40% repeat customer rate. That's one of the perks of developing film, he says. But it also speaks to the devotion of the community. Dominick wants photographers to see the space as being able to give them everything they need under one roof. This space is beloved by photographers all across Brooklyn and Manhattan where affordable creative spaces are disappearing. It's a big goal of Dominick's new programming initiatives to get photographers in the same room in order to start partnerships and conversations. Many of the classes being offered in the space are taught by customers of the shop.
‘I want it to be a situation where you can come here and buy film, rent a camera, rent a studio and then drop off film to be processed without leaving the building,’ he says. ‘I really want to focus on more community things going forward. We're going to host photo walks monthly and also do classes as much as possible to cater towards that original vision where education is the biggest thing.’