Amateur shutterbug Abe Feinstein spent 50 years immortalizing the changing face of the People’s Playground — from gritty amusement district to glitzy fun zone — and now the retired camera salesman is ready for his own close-up: the Coney Island History Project is showcasing the 83-year-old’s work.
The exhibit, entitled “Abe Feinstein: 50 Years of Coney Island Photography,” has opened to rave reviews at the W. 12th Street gallery as onlookers enjoy classic shots of the now-vanished Cavalcade Skooter, The Animal Nursery, Ravenhall, Faber’s Sportland, and the World of Wax. There’s also a cool picture of a group of young boys chasing Muhammad Ali in his limo past the Thunderbolt Roller Coaster. Feinstein’s exhibit runs through July 1.
Feinstein began snapping pictures of the Riegelmann Boardwalk, plus the nearby rides and restaurants, after moving to the waterfront neighborhood from Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1962. He documented the politics, atrophy, and urban renewal that shaped Coney’s fate with the skilled eye of a photojournalist and archeologist, but stored his prized photographs in a closet of his Luna Park home as his portfolio grew.
Charles Denson, the executive director of the history project who convinced Feinstein to exhibit his work, says the lensman has managed to capture Coney at its authentic best and worst.
“The pictures are like a time machine,” he said.
Feinstein said he never sought the spotlight, but he isn’t complaining now that it’s here.
“A little recognition can’t hurt,” he added. “I’m glad I’m being honored.”
The photog said he misses the long-gone attractions, such as Steeplechase Park, but he now enjoys photographing the new Boardwalk businesses that replaced old-school shops as part of the honky-tonk area’s transformation into an upscale, year-round tourist destination.
“I feel sorry for some of the people they pushed off the Boardwalk,” he said. “But time marches on.”
Feinstein says he’ll continue capturing Coney’s present for future generations — especially now that he’s traded up to a digital camera.
“I’m never going to stop taking pictures until the very end, which I hope won’t be for a very long time,” he said.
“Abe Feinstein: 50 Years of Coney Island Photography,” at the Coney Island History Project [3059 W. 12th St. between Bowery Street and the Boardwalk in Coney Island, (347) 702-8553, www.coneyislandhistory.org]. Free, through July 1.