BKIFI: The First Black Film Manufacturer Makes Innovation Fun

I met Sharon Steven at the corner of gentrified and artistic in Bushwick, and true to form Mother Nature was being her regular finicky self and decided to finesse the streets of Brooklyn with a nasty mixture of snow and rain. Yet, Sharon’s pink fuzzy sweater brightened the atmosphere as we walked to her suggested restaurant, Santa Salsa, known for their vegan burgers. We lucked out today, as we were the only patrons, therefore granted inside access on this dreary day in COVID reality. Upon talking with her, I realized that this founder is a natural reflection of her brand, fun and whimsical with a genuine place in afro-futurism.

BKIFI (known as Brooklyn Instant Film Initiative) was born in 2007, which was spawned from Sharon’s desire to explore. Like her father, she is a natural-born tinkerer. “My dad was always making weird stuff, I guess that’s where my love for it came from.” As a result, she found joy in taking her Polaroid and Holga cameras apart, to see how they worked. However, she ultimately settled in her love for Polaroid cameras because of the instant feedback the camera provided, the affordable cost (ahem! What’s with those rising prices Polaroid Hmmm?), and she was also intrigued by the light-sensitive materials the Polaroid provides.

A single shot of Revlog film was her ultimate muse, and when she first glanced upon it, her inventive mind thought about how to create it. “I remember when I first saw this Revelog film and thinking that it was freaky and dreamy and just being so inspired. Like the thought of creating it myself consumed me. I said to myself, you’re not gonna stop thinking about this until you do it. I had to try to create it for myself. I loved seeing that possibilities of 35 mm Revlog and couldn’t find it anywhere, so I decided to make it.” Thus BKIFI’s grid pattern was born, as Sharon thought of new ways to put patterns on film so that it could be interesting and new age.

The dreamy photo that started a reality.

The first BKIFI film was burned directly onto the Polaroid film. The process was time-consuming, but then Sharon decided to create instant film sheets that were then put into the Polaroid cartridge. This made the filters reusable, affordable, and interchangeable. Then she ventured into putting the images on 35 mm film, and also gave her brand a personable edge by physically delivering the film to her clients, as long as they lived in the New York City area. “I figured that people would appreciate the opportunity to get film delivered to them on demand. If they need it right now, they can have it.” Naturally, Sharon is secretive about her process of creating this magical film, but she revealed the film can be made six different ways, which involves exposing the film to color. But other than that it is simply made with “light and love.”

This founder’s favorite color is blue, which is often seen as moody and sad, but true to her sign (Gemini) Sharon sees the other side of life. She remarks on the various different hues of blue in the sky, particularly when the sun sets, and then suddenly, seemingly on cue, three blue cars breezed past us in succession! Sharon’s eyes got wide and she laughed about it. “It’s so funny because I thought of BKIFI, it was just a thought in my brain and here it is. It’s crazy how I made things happen for myself.”

Sharon’s new formulation: Rainbow, which was influenced by her sister’s childhood portrait

BKIFI is now Sharon’s full-time passion and she’s a one-woman warrior, executing the process from start to finish all in-house. However, when presented with the fact that she is an innovator, she reflects on it with nothing but realism. “I’m just making film in my house now which is kind of weird. I’ve literally been relegated to a corner and made it work. As far as being a pioneer, I’m looking up to film pioneers myself and maybe I can be that to someone someday. But for now, I’m just happy to be able to feed the cat.” She is referring to her female orange tabby, affectionally nicknamed Doug. We discussed the possibility that cats just maybe fuzzy aliens, as Doug has become her main priority. “They are so cute, and they basically take over your life.” We’d like to believe that Doug is possibly reporting back to her clan on Mars, reporting that her owner on Earth creates things that are otherworldly.

Sharon’s kitty Doug

More interesting pursuits await BKIFI, as Sharon has some novel ideas for expansion. Due to the time consuming nature of developing the film, she hopes to hire an assistant soon. She also has sights on creating a BKIFI camera that has interchangeable filters, which would be next level imaginative. Currently, she has just realeased new Polaroid and Instax filters and she will be releasing a new flower style for 35 mm and polaroid formats as well as a “trippy” take on her former grid pattern. She also wants to create experience-based, interactive experiences for people to have fun. It light of recent times, Sharon’s lighthearted creations are needed. Perhaps we will be seeing a portrait pop-up shop with BKIFI in the near future!

Flower Child. Photo taken by Kunjo @Kunjo_

BKIFI is currently offered in fourteen fabulously fun styles, and can be purchased at Photodom, and her website .

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