A photographic history of Queens at JCAL

Change happens everywhere, with Queens exemplifying the rule nearly without exception.

In many neighborhoods, from Bayside to Jackson Heights, St. Albans to Maspeth, rapid development and the arrival of thousands of new residents from around the world over the decades have forever changed the landscape of our borough.

In his exhibit, “Changing Queens,” now on display at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, curator and borough native Danny Simmons sets a nostalgic tone, inviting the viewer to witness the effects of the passing years on places we all thought we knew well.

“Some older generations may say, ‘This neighborhood has gone to hell,’” said Simmons, echoing the sentiments of many in the borough. “But I just see it as change … a new landscape where you can make similar memories. It’s not good or bad.”

Simmons, vice president and co-founder of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, wanted to document the contrast of old and new as a way to map the transformation of neighborhoods, and thus, “Changing Queens” was born.

Putting the word out to his artistic peers, Simmons assembled a seven photographers to capture the borough’s mosaic of neighborhoods.

Five of the seven artists were outsiders to Queens, asked by Simmons to find something they felt a connection to and document it.

Photographer Larry Brown provided the exhibit with an insider’s point of reference, contrasting current images with nine black-and-white photos of Queens taken in 1985. Brown’s candid images show the borough’s past, documenting everything from dated commercial buildings and half-completed construction sites to a junkyard.

Brooklyn-born artist Mark Lee Blackshear was instantly attracted to the project. “I’ve always been drawn to nostalgia and capturing what may not be around much longer,” Blackshear said. His large-scale, color images provide a dynamic juxtaposition of old and new construction, inviting the viewer to explore the unnoticed details and unexpected contradiction of spaces.

Blackshear’s image titled, “L.I.C., Old and New 2nd St.,” shows a bright, large, newly constructed commercial building framed by a dilapidated, partially demolished brick structure in the foreground.

Each artist approached the concept with an individual voice and inspired perspective, resulting in a compelling collection of lively works of art sharing a calm gallery setting.

Photographer Lacy Austin’s images are abstract and emotional, while Delphyne Fawundu’s work is a documentary-style glimpse into Cambria Heights’ commercial strips.

Artist Vince Hunter rounded out the collection with graphic studies of classic moments set in modern times, like “Untitled,” in which children ride their bicycles at dusk under the iconic 1964 World’s Fair Unisphere.

“Changing Queens” is on display at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, located at 161-04 Jamaica Ave., Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., through May 2. Visit jcal.org for more information.

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