When walking down the street, most people will either disregard or make judgments about the strangers around them. At a young age, we’ve been told to never talk to strangers and to be wary of the shady looking characters. But photographer Jay Weinstein wants to change that.
On a recent photography trip to Bikaner in the deserts of Rajasthan, India, he came across a man that would be the catalyst for his ongoing project, …so I asked them to smile. In the midst of a busy train station, Weinstein spotted the man amongst the crowd and wanted to photograph him. It wasn’t until he noticed the man’s stony gaze and stern look that he decided otherwise. Too intimidated by this seemingly hardened man to approach him, he chose to avoid him instead. It wasn’t until Weinstein heard the man’s cheerful voice shouting “Take my picture too!” that he finally turned his camera on the man to take a snap. As the man smiled for the camera, Weinstein watched as the once cold man transformed into a completely different being. It was at that very moment that Weinstein’s project was born.
For years following that fateful incident, Weinstein has been traveling and asking strangers to pose for him. He captures these strangers in two different poses: one without a smile and one while smiling. According to Weinstein, this arrangement was a way for him to document the effect of the human smile on a stranger’s face. His goal is to change the viewer’s attitude and assumptions about strangers by humanizing his subjects.
Each subject is completely unknown to Weinstein. He approaches most of them while they’re going about their daily lives while others ask to be photographed by him. Weinstein does not provide any additional information about the subjects in his photographs. There are no names, no occupations, no confirmed religions or ethnicity, and no life stories that accompany the images. The purpose of withholding that information is so that the viewer’s own thoughts will be heard without any external influences.
Weinstein’s project features mostly images of strangers in India, but he plans on expanding the collection to include people from all parts of the world. He also encourages peoples to submit their own pair of images of strangers that they approached and asked to smile.
Check out his full project here.