Von King Park’s Girl Power Trio: Amy Touchette’s Best Photo | Photography

huherbert Von King Park is a popular park in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where I live. It’s a place where everyone in the neighborhood can come together. Some play sports, others walk their dogs or play basketball. Many people go there for a barbecue or have birthday parties for their children. I’ve lived in Bed-Stuy since 2015 and shoot a lot in Von King Park because people are chilling out so they can usually miss a moment.

These three girls were sitting on a ledge. The one in the middle was on her phone. They are quite young so I got the feeling they were excited that someone in their group had a phone. You never really know if a photo is going to work or if people feel too insecure. But once the girl got off her phone, we spent some time together. For me, these are always very fast exchanges. I just take two frames. I don’t want to take up people’s time, even young girls who seem to have all the time in the world. They are there to socialize, not to participate in a women’s project.

From left to right they are Linda, Chastity and Jada. Usually I don’t get names but this was nominated for an award and exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London as part of a Taylor Wessing exhibition in 2019. When it was nominated I had to find the girls and get autographs from their parents.

Many of my photos of Bed-Stuy are about people in relationships: couples, friends, families. I was drawn to the friendship you can see between the young threesome. I like the way they stare into the camera: this is a real girl power photo. They look like they are going to be really strong women. We have problems in America with things like gun control and racial injustice. So for me photography is a real antidepressant. I shoot to meet people one-on-one and have personal exchanges.

Bed-Stuy is a huge neighbourhood. It is very lively, very interactive and very community oriented. I was immediately struck by these qualities – I shot one of my first portraits before the moving van had even left the curb. Historically it is a black community, but today it is quite diverse. Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing – a great film that portrays the racial tensions in the neighborhood – was shot here.

I shoot with a Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar film camera, a really old-fashioned model that looks very different from today’s cameras – and something these young girls had probably never seen. For street portrait photography, there isn’t much arranging or directing. I just shoot on the side of the street with the lighting I prefer, which is shade.

Asking someone if you can do a portrait is short for saying, “I like you.” That should never be hard to say to a stranger, but somehow it is. There are studies that show that looking someone in the eye releases oxytocin, a hormone that makes you feel good and connected and counteracts the stress hormone cortisol. All my photos of Bed-Stuy have strong eye contact. There is a transfer of happiness. I get it. That’s why I’ve been photographing strangers on the street for 20 years.

Personal Ties: Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn by Amy Touchette is out now, published by Schilt. www.amytouchette.com. Follow Amy at @amy_touchette.

Amy Touchette’s resume

Born: New York, 1970.
educated: International Center for Photography, New York.
influences: Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt, August Sander, the Maysles brothers.
High point: “I got a pair of leather pants from Arbus, which fit me perfectly.”
Low point: “Learn That” [local cop] ‘Scooter Joe’ Willins had passed away in the spring of 2020. He was an inspiring person that I photographed making personal ties.”
Top Tip: “If you want your subjects to feel calm, comfortable, and genuine, approach them with calm, comfort, and sincerity.”

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