Being called “an outsider looking in” in social situations usually isn’t considered a good thing. Staci Schwartz, a Bellmore photographer who has documented parties and celebrations for almost two decades, would beg to differ.
Schwartz, 39, who grew up in Mt. Sinai, said she didn’t enjoy feeling like an outsider as a student at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But when she took her first photography class in 1990 and began spending large chunks of time in a darkroom, developing film, she started to connect with her peers by capturing moments in their lives.
“Someone once said that when you start using a camera, it becomes an appendage, and that’s very true,” she said. “Being a photographer lets me sort of be a part of things while stepping outside of them at the same time. It allows me to look at how I view myself as part of that world.”
Twenty of Schwartz’s photos are on exhibit at the Bellmore Memorial Library through Aug. 16 in a show that she is calling “Pop Life: Photographs of Long Island Pop Culture.”
The show’s origins date back nearly 20 years, to when Schwartz was a student at Bard College. Her final project at school, filled with documentary photography, captured social scenes on Long Island.
After she graduated from Bard in 1996, Schwartz worked at newspapers in Nassau and Suffolk counties, including the Heralds, before becoming the photo editor of the Village Voice from 2000 to 2008. Her work has also been published in The New York Times, the Daily News, Vogue, Travel and Leisure, American Photography, and Hamptons and Gotham magazines.
Schwartz, who is now an art teacher in a Long Island school district, said her photojournalism career gave her access to proms, homecomings, parties and graduations. She was also asked to photograph everyday activities, like people commuting from Long Island to New York City.
When on assignment for newspapers, Schwartz brought a second camera to shoot additional photographs centering on social scenes, similar to the work she had done in college, and thus “Pop Life: Photographs of Long Island Pop Culture” was born.