WSN’s Photo Editor Alina Patrick visited Jackson Heights last week, challenged herself to walk up to strangers and ask to take their photograph.
Words and Photos by Alina Patrick, Photo Editor
I rode the 7 train out to Jackson Heights, Queens expecting to spend the afternoon awkwardly approaching strangers and being rejected left and right before coming home with a few hit and miss rolls of film, typical of my attempts at street photography projects. But Jackson Heights surprised me. The majority of strangers I approached were happy — albeit a little confused — to let me take their photograph, and I was excited to see an entirely new neighborhood of the city through their portraits.
I spent the first hour warming up by taking quick snapshots on my Minolta 35mm camera. Nothing good yet, and I was starting to become nervous that I would only have portraits of pigeons to show my professor. After finishing the first roll of 35mm film I pulled out a Rolleiflex, a medium format film camera that looks like a 1950s movie prop. Suddenly, when I approached strangers and asked for their portrait they began to shrug their shoulders and say “OK.” Instead of being brushed off as someone who they must have thought was a crazy tourist lost deep in Queens with a camera, they accepted the idea that I was an artist.
I photographed families, old men, shop owners, street performers, the homeless, food vendors and anyone else I could find. A few people struck up conversations with me and introduced me to their friends to take their portraits. One man who I caught on his smoke break told me he owned the salon we were standing outside of and introduced me to his friend who owned the botanica next door. I am returning on Monday to give them darkroom prints of their portraits and hopefully get to learn a bit more about them and Jackson Heights. I am so grateful to the few strangers who welcomed me into their communities even if only for a five-minute conversation and a photograph.
Email Alina Patrick at [email protected]