For Jay Weinstein moving to India was an exciting experience. With his school teacher parents, he moved to India at the tender age of 3 and spent the next 12 years living in Vrindavan. Jay stood witness to the wide spread aura of languages, foods, cultures and arts of India. Even though he has lived and worked all around the world, Weinstein feels specific ties to India. His current project ‘…so I asked them to smile’ originated towards the end of 2013 in Bikaner, Rajasthan, while on one of these adventures. The project has grown to also feature Nepal and Australia, and is expanding further in the coming days.
- How did the idea of ‘So I asked them to smile’ come to you? Who did you shoot first and why?
December 2013. I was on a photography trip to Bikaner, in the deserts of Rajasthan, India. Near the busy train station, I saw a man I wanted to photograph. I hesitated.
The look in his eye and his stony, stern look intimidated me. It’s always that moment of hesitation that kills a shot! I ended up avoiding him and photographing other subjects until I heard his jovial voice, “Take my picture too!”. Camera lens focused, my finger poised to fire.
‘Smile’, I called out. And he was transformed.
His face radiated warmth, his eyes sparkled with a humor I had completely missed. Even his posture softened. I knew then what my next project would be. To document the effect of the human smile on a strangers face.
In the days, months and years that followed, I asked random people on my photography adventures (mostly on the streets of India) to pose unsmiling and with a smile. These images are the heart of my project. Its goal is to recreate the mindset from which we view a stranger, and then witness as our assumptions transform with their smile.
So there are no names, No occupations, No confirmed religions or ethnicity. No intriguing life lessons or heart strumming anecdotes.
- Which is your favourite image you have shot recently? Can you describe its creation in regards to location, lighting, composition etc., also your thoughts when creating the image and what it means to you?
I loved the Yamuna Aarti image from Vrindavan. It captures the spirit, color and chaos of that event. I got a bit lucky as a boatman brought his boat into frame just as the priest reached into a plastic bag and hurled a handful of bright pink rose petals into the air. I had been before so was waiting for that moment but the elements came together, including the boat, adding layers nuances to something that has been photographed by countless photographers.
- What are your future plans?
To expand ‘So I asked them to smile’ to other countries. It currently features 5 (India, Nepal, Kenya, Australia and China) and I want to cover more and more of the globe. I am also finally taking the project into galleries, where I think its real strength lies. People can spend time with the images and have the time to notice their own thoughts and assumptions play out.
I am also busy with the travel company I am setting up so that I can introduce people to the India I explore and treasure. Very grassroots with alot of walking around and talking to people, somewhere between planned and unplanned, and in places that are beautiful and worth visiting anyways. India can be challenging and I find that when one can contextualize the sights, sounds, ideas, smells, tastes and people that seem to be indiscriminately heading in your direction, India makes alot of sense! That’s when the magic happens and then a deep seated appreciation and gratitude spring forth.
- Who are some of your favorite photographers from the past or present?
That’s a hard one for me to narrow down, there are far too many! Right now I am really enjoying the work of Sudharak Olwe. I think he brings an authenticity to his images that I aspire to, a gritty reality, a feel for colors and lines as well as an unpretentious take on the streets and villages of India. I also admire that he chooses to use his photography, his gift, to give voice to those who have none, to shine a light on the parts of our society that we may not always want to see or hear.
- What was your experience travelling to India?
I have spent many years traveling in India, and it’s always an adventure! The simplest thing becomes an adventure, and that is magical, most of the time. I love it.
- When did you know that you wanted to pursue photography as a career – and travel photography in particular? How did you get your start?
I never looked at it that
way, it is just slowly happening. My space is between travel and photography. They both go so well together and there is a large space where they overlap. I love exploring places where the people and environment feel authentic. Photography is a great tool to notice things you would otherwise walk past, and thus it is an ideal combination for me. I can explore, photograph, and then later share those places with other visitors, while photographing some more!
- Your love for photography has brought you all over the world – what are the biggest advantages (and challenges) of living a largely nomadic life?
I love that every day is different and that there is a momentum that I missed when I was in a more stable situation. I am learning that the comfort zone we all are drawn towards provides less happiness then leaving it, as regularly as possible. I am a better version of myself when I travel which was a scary reality to aknowledge.
I would say that the biggest challenge is maintaining the routine/discipline that is required in order to make the most of every day. When I am truly connected and present, there is no room for loneliness, but when I lag, it can be a challenge.
- What are your upcoming titles or other projects that we can look forward to seeing?
I am fully focused on taking so I asked them to smile to the widest possible audience, and the largest number of countries I can. There is no room for other projects at this time!