From the late 1980s to early 2000s, Rainbow Shoe Repair, a shoe cobbler was located at 170 Delancey Street on the Lower East Side. As a side hustle on top of fixing shoes, the staff at Rainbow became well-known for taking affordable passport photos and portraits for neighborhood locals. Josef Borukhov, who operated the shop from the 1980s to mid 1990s, had a talent for photography, and his collection of primary color curtains served as the backdrop for portraits. The now iconic red curtain became a popular choice. Ilya Shaulov continued to operate the photo studio from the late 1990’s to mid 2000’s.

By that time, Rainbow Shoe Repair had become a Lower East Side staple in a pre-Instagram world, where local residents stopped by for a casual shot of a fly outfit, or to document important milestones like communions, graduations, and everything in between. It became a destination for people in the neighborhood to express something about themselves or their families and friends.

Now, the exhibition “Rainbow Shoe Repair: An Unexpected Theater of Flyness” at the Abrons Art Center and in multiple locations on the Lower East Side showcases some of those portraits that were taken when the shoe shop was open. The photographs were acquired through an open call and from the Rainbow Shoe Repair archive.

Enlarged photographs on brick wall of Rainbow Shoe Repair exhibitionPhoto: Daniel Terna for Abrons Arts Center 

On an upcoming curator-led walking tour of the Lower East Side on March 12th, Ali Rosa-Salas from the Henry Street Settlement will take Untapped New York Insiders to three locations that are part of the Rainbow Shoe Repair exhibition, and ending at the monthly ceremonial fire outdoors in the amphitheater at Abrons Arts Center that explores Indigenous protocol and knowledge. “The exhibition definitely warranted a life outside the gallery space,” Rosa-Salas tells us.

Father and daughter in photograph on brick wall Photo: Daniel Terna for Abrons Arts Center 

The first stop on the tour will be at the historic Henry Street Settlement, where we will view three portraits of a mother and her son across the first three years of the boy’s life. Placed here, the photographs emphasize the role of the Henry Street Settlement, as an organization that people grow up in. We will also be joined by Elroy Gay, one of the subjects in the Rainbow Shoe Repair archive.

Photo Curtains and images on displayPhoto: Daniel Terna for Abrons Arts Center 

The next stop will be 178 Broome Street, a workforce center that is part of the Henry Street Settlement operations, with photographs that are connected to the process of going into the workplace, including graduation photos. The final stop will be at the Abrons Art Center, where the photographs from the exhibition emphasize duos and couples, like a father and child or best friends, which speak to the ethos of the community-oriented emphasis of the organization.

photographs on display at Rainbow Shoe Repair: An Unexpected Theater of Flyness Photo: Daniel Terna for Abrons Arts Center 

A final location that will not be on the tour is the the Boys & Girls Republic on Avenue D, which has portraits which evoke the mother and child imagery from paintings, following three years of life of a woman and her daughter as she enters adolescence.

Registration opens today for a free curator-led walking tour of the exhibition Rainbow Shoe Repair: An Unexpected Theater of Flyness for Untapped New York Insiders. If you aren’t a member yet, join up and get a host of free experiences like this every month!

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