Say cheese: This photo project is capturing the power of a smile

  • Poorva Joshi, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Aug 18, 2016 17:50 IST
“She was playing outside her home in the Village of Kakhsar, Gujarat” (Photo: Jay Weinstein)

A portrait project, by Mumbai-based, Australian photographer Jay Weinstein, urges you to smile more often.

A photo frame is split in two: on the left is a middle-aged woman, looking sternly at the camera. In sharp contrast, the right frame shows the same woman grinning. The difference between the two frames is significant — while the left image offers a portrait of a rural woman caught between her daily chores and a monotonous life, the smile on the right image is infectious, and makes you feel upbeat.

“She was having an evening chat with some friends (with an eye on the children) outside her home in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh” (Photo: Jay Weinstein)

The image is part of So I Asked Them to Smile (SIATS), a photo series by Mumbai-based Australian photographer Jay Weinstein (34). His aim is to capture the positive energy of common people and remind the audience to smile as often as possible.

Read: Window collector: Join a project that collects views from around the world

“To me, the project is a constant reminder of how powerful a smile is. It transcends language, gender, age, religion and nationality. With this minimalist project, I hope to highlight the positivity left in this world,” says Weinstein.

“Shot in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh” (Photo: Jay Weinstein)

As part of the project, Weinstein showcases photos of smiling strangers from all across India on SIATS’ Facebook page. The page has more than one million followers.

Global citizen

The idea first occurred to Weinstein in 2013, when he was visiting Bikaner, Rajasthan, on a photography trip (Weinstein is a photographer for The Sacred India Gallery, Perth, Australia). It was there, in the desert, that he saw a man he wanted to click.

“But the stony look in his eyes intimidated me,” he says. He ended up avoiding the man altogether and capturing other subjects until the man called out to Weinstein and said, “Take my picture too!”

“Shot at Kakhsar Village, Gujarat” (Photo: Jay Weinstein)

“When I pointed my camera at him, he transformed completely — his eyes sparkled with a humour I had completely missed when I first saw him,” says Weinstein, who took it as sign to embark on this project.

Interestingly, Weinstein grew up in India and shared a strong connection with the country since childhood. “I remember growing up on Amitabh [Bachchan] movies on DD1, lemon soda bottles with blue marbles, rickshaws that had wooden covers, and white Ambassadors. I still look at India as my home,” says Weinstein.

Going with the flow

His connection to India reflects in his work ethic as well. How else does he get strangers, especially women in rural areas, to smile for the camera? “I simply ask them. Most people agree instantly. I converse with them for some time to quickly build a trust that will allow for a genuine smile,” he says.

“Shot at Hampi, Karnataka” (Photo: Jay Weinstein)

Weinstein admits that he is happy with the minimalist approach and has no plans of converting the SIATS platform into something more profound. “We are surrounded by messages that tell us what to think, believe in or fight for. SITAS avoids adding to the din. I am not really interested in the gritty side of people; there are enough talented photographers shining a light there. I am more inspired by the dignity and warmth I see around me. I’d like to keep capturing that,” he says.

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