When it comes to New York City, Manhattan gets all the attention, glamour and especially the glory. But, if you hop on the subway and leave the hustle and bustle of Times Square behind and continue east beyond the United Nations, you will discover a world rich in culture, pageantry and photographic inspiration in the borough of Queens – a unique melting pot and a gold mine for photographers. In fact, Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world. So, go ahead venture off the beaten path, and point your camera at these three photographic must-sees in this unsung outer borough.
1. Five Pointz- Being a graffiti artist is a furtive occupation where urban masters often lurk in the shadows waiting for their chance at spray-paint expression. That’s why Five Pointz is such an incredible find– it’s a graffiti Mecca located in a city where all other tagging is considered illegal. An abandoned 20th century warehouse that’s dwarfed by a distant city skyline, this hulking facility provides a post apocalyptic canvas for inner city artists. More than 350 Technicolor murals form a psychedelic collage, where eye-popping color explodes and swirls around every corner of this outdoor art exhibit. The industrial complex anchors a neighborhood filled with burgeoning gallery space, yet it’s Five Pointz that draws the attention of those in the know. Aerosol artists from around the world, nearly 1,000 each year, come to leave their mark here at the epicenter of the graffiti scene. On most days, the sound of a DJ’s track competes with the shrieking brakes of the 7-subway line-circling overhead. Kick aside the discarded aerosol canisters populating the unkempt streets surrounding the former factory, and shoot during times of shade. Underexpose your photographs for higher contrast and saturation. Seek out characters or colorfully dressed subjects that can act as models and give the murals a sense of scale.
2. Phagwah- Queens’ melting pot mélange erupts in a dye-choked color war once a year in the otherwise quiet, residential community of Richmond Hills. The local Guyanese adaptation of Holi, a Hindu holiday, is a kaleidoscopic palette enveloped in deep surreal hues. Celebrating both the triumph of good over evil and the arrival of Spring, Phagwah doubles as an excuse to douse neighbors in a rainbow of dye. Baby powder containers and spray bottles are the weapons of choice as every bit of exposed skin or protective clothing becomes an impromptu Jackson Pollack canvas for these Indian-inspired festivities. Clouds of multi-color dyes saturate the air at Smokey Park every March as dense crowds vie for pastel supremacy.
Don’t come unprepared as everything from your camera to your clothing will become overlaid by dye. Photographing a pageant of this nature requires planning. For one, you will need camera protection– it can be anything from a protective case to a makeshift set-up (like a plastic bag that’s been carefully cut out to allow room for just the lens). You will also require camera cleaning equipment– lens cleaning cloths at the very least. Moreover, be sure to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting ruined. Stay on the lookout for unique portrait opportunities: mainly those dressed for the occasion (wearing traditional Hindu clothing) or people with the most vividly colorful faces. Approach the extravaganza as if it was action photography. The best images are taken while you’re in the middle of the action. My favorite photographs from Phagwah are straight-on portraits with the action in the background blurred or shots taken from a higher perspective.
3. Flushing Meadows-Corona Park- Located in a former valley of ashes as described by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby,” Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was the site of two World’s Fairs and is the home of the Unisphere, Citi Field, the U.S. Open, the New York Hall of Science, the Queens Museum of Art, Meadow Lake and the Queens Zoo. This largest park in Queens has endless photographic opportunities to be explored. If you’re interested in sports photography, catch a New York Mets game at Citi Field or shoot a tennis tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The now abandoned 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair State Pavilion, designed by famous architect Phillip Johnson, would be of interest to architecture photographers and those who like to explore the nitty gritty world of urban decay. Other places of interest include the Queens Museum of Art’s Panorama exhibit which features a model of the entire New York City area including every building constructed before 1992 in the five boroughs. The centerpiece of the museum, the Panorama, is known as the world’s largest architectural model of a city. Just south, there’s the annual Dragon Boat festival that takes place on Meadow Lake, where racing teams of individuals row mythologically inspired dragon boats (narrow boats decorated with the head of a Chinese dragon at the bow) at a blistering pace to the sounds of beating drums. The festival is a multi-cultural event with a wide variety of performances and ethnic food. There’s also the New York Hall of Science, which in addition to being a mesmerizing tribute to the future it hosts a rotating cast of colorful events such as Makers Faire. When you’re done photographing, stop by the nearby Lemon Ice King of Corona where they have been producing their incredible flavors for over 60 years.
When you’re willing to go the extra mile, there’s an array of striking photographic opportunities to be discovered in the borough of Queens.
Chase Guttman was named Young Travel Photographer of the Year 2010 and a Grand Prize Winner in a National Geographic Photography Competition. His work was exhibited at London’s prestigious Royal Geographical Society and he was selected as a Top Ten Travel Photographer by the New York Institute of Photography. “Like” him on Facebook, “follow” him on Twitter, “circle” him on Google+ and subscribe to his blog for a photo of the day.