CROWN HEIGHTS — It's a face that would be familiar to even the most casual visitor.
The iconic image of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, holds a singular place in the visual landscape of Crown Heights, where his picture hangs from storefronts and strollers, over doorways and in the homes of the faithful across Brooklyn and around the world.
Yet, just steps from the seat of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement at 770 Eastern Parkway, visitors can see a new side of the emblematic figure, who died 18 years ago this weekend, as captured by the late Israeli photographer Yossi Melamed.
"[Melamed] started coming to 770 and he fell in love," said Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, curator of "770 Through Yossi's Lens." "From 1976 to 1992, he kept coming back. He took about 30,000 pictures."
Those pictures sat in boxes in Melamed's apartment until 2010, when Jewish Educational Media (JEM), an arm of the movement, acquired them and began the arduous process of cataloguing and preparing them for the public.
This being the age of social media, JEM also designed features for visitors to tag themselves, their relatives and friends in 30-year-old snapshots of the spiritual leader.
"You can tag it like you do on Facebook," said Director Shlomie Morosow, 24, who spent weeks with the photographer digging through more than 4,500 rolls of film, months scanning, sorting and restoring negatives and untold hours helping arrange the landmark show just weeks after Melamed's death this spring.
The exhibit opened on Albany Avenue near Union Street on Sunday and will run through July 1, after which JEM hopes to host the archive online.
While select prints hang clustered on the walls of a hastily assembled gallery (the space is owned by a neighboring bakery, which plans to expand there) the lion's share of the archive can be viewed through a digital catalogue, including never-before-seen images of life in Hasidic Crown Heights.
"This is just a glimpse of the collection," Morosow said. "We sat for four weeks in [Melamed's] apartment in the heat of the summer. We saw tears in his eyes — he himself was discovering his treasures again."
But despite dozens of intimate portraits, perhaps the exhibit's most popular feature has been the searchable archive, where scores of visitors have already spotted their parents, siblings, grandparents and even their much younger selves with the venerated figure.
"We have parents coming in and showing their children," Shmotkin said. "You see people who were here connecting and re-experiencing it."
Almost everyone takes a peek for themselves — everyone, that is, except Morosow.
"When I was working, I didn't permit myself to focus on any of them," Morosow said of the temptation to find himself among the frames. "You have to be cold to this great treasure you're hunting into, but it's worth it, because I know many other people will be able to do what I wanted to do."