Queenscapes Pick of Month - Vikki Tobak “Contact High” Discussion

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Folks, come out to to Book Culture LIC Wednesday, January 23rd 2019 at 6:30pm, as author Vikki Tobak discusses her book “Contact High” for an event presented by Back to the Lab NYC.

Back to the Lab NYC is a community organization for photogrpahers seeking to hone their skills and craft their vision. The org was founded by Huguette Ampudia, Mark Beckenbach, Marco Jokic and Salvador Espinoza.

Contact High is an inside look at the work of hip-hop photographers told through their most intimate diaries—their contact sheets.

Featuring rare outtakes from over 100 photoshoots alongside interviews and essays from industry legends, Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop takes readers on a chronological journey from old-school to alternative hip-hop and from analog to digital photography. The ultimate companion for music and photography enthusiasts, Contact High is the definitive history of hip-hop’s early days, celebrating the artists that shaped the iconic album covers, t-shirts and posters beloved by hip-hop fans today.

With essays from BILL ADLER, RHEA L. COMBS, FAB 5 FREDDY, MICHAEL GONZALES, YOUNG GURU, DJ PREMIER, and RZA

Vikki Tobak is a journalist whose writing has appeared in The FADER, Complex, Mass Appeal, Paper Magazine, i-D Magazine, The Detroit News, Vibe, and many others. She is a former producer and columnist for CBS Marketwatch, CNN, Bloomberg News, TechTV and other leading media organizations. Vikki is also the founding curator of FotoDC's film program, and served as the art commissioner/curator for the Palo Alto Public Art Commission in Silicon Valley. She has lectured about music photography at American University, VOLTA New York, Photoville, the Library of Congress and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

Purchase your book at Book Culture LIC and mention Back To The Lab for 10% off your purchase, and support a local business.

Throwback Thursday

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I vaguely remember what the Falchi Building used to look like in the 1990’s.

Besides the old Avirex jacket factory that used to sit prominently in the front of the entrance, the building itself pretty much looks the same as it always has.

It’s when you add the Citi Bike docking station firmly affixed to the curb along the corner of 47th Avenue, off of 31st Street, along with the 4-5 food carts that call this street home from 9:00am – 5:00pm each day, where you start to really feel the difference.

The buzz on the block is like a scene out of afternoon at Penn Station. Like most of Long Island City, change has come here, and it has come fast.

In 2019, I’ll try to do a better job at remembering the way the rest of old Long Island City looks right now.

Words & Photo by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

The oral history of Liberty Rock

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The following piece contains the exact contents of an e-mail sent to us by Lisa Gowdey Prichard yesterday December 26th 2018 @ 2:02pm:

“Back in 1969, myself (Lisa Gowdey) Cassandra Draft and a few of us from the neighborhood formed a community organization to clean up that section of Farmers Blvd.

It was a triangle where all the winos hung out and an eyesore. We all lived on Farmers or surrounding roads. I lived on 111th Rd, Cassie lived off Murdock, and many others. We got the local precinct to help with traffic and we cleaned the street from Linden to Liberty. We picked up trash, glass and everything. When we got to the Triangle, it was full of wine bottles, trash, and a bench.

That rock was a WWII memorial with a plaque on it. We decided to paint it with the cooperation of the local A&P behind it and the drug store across the street. We painted it red, black and green for the neighborhood and left the plaque untouched. The City of NY was very upset and ordered us to sandblast the paint and restore it to its original state. With the help of the local store owners backing us, we defied and challenged the city.

They agreed to leave the paint but removed the plaque to another place. So THE ROCK became a focal point of pride for the neighborhood. We had bake sales there which is how I met my husband who had just returned from Vietnam.

I no longer live in the city but I am so proud and excited that it has been maintained for almost 50 years! When I go to visit and the bus passes it I have a big smile on my face. Many memories of a good life in St. Albans!”

Words by Lisa Gowdey Prichard Photo by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

Artist Spotlight - Brother Maars

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I came across Brother Maars’ work on Instagram casually, from the explore page I believe.

Immediately I was taken by not only his vibrant and colorful artwork, but also by the commentary that accompanied his images. Words of a man being pushed to the brink, but not over. Silver linings around each corner, words from an eternal optimist.

Maars’ work is heavily influenced by hip hop and his upbringing as an African American in this country. With his over the top images of sexuality, social commentary, and his firm grasp on pop culture themes, I felt Maars’ paintings really spoke to me and to folks who grew up in my generation.

Maars, also known as by his first name, Jamar, says of his work, “Abstract in concept, but relatable in subject. Comedic yet inspirational.”

The painting above is a depiction of Jamar’s cousin Zeke. He writes:

“Not just amazing on the courts, but one of the kindest, a real humanitarian, he made me a burger. To me Zeke represents the heart of the youth, his ability to bounce back and go past limitations is what inspires me most about him. Here, he is seen encouraging the kids of China to leap. No luck needed, no safety net required.”

We are honored to announce that Jamar, the Brother Maars has offered one of his original paintings to be raffled this Saturday night for our culminating pop-up photo exhibit at Neirs Tavern in Woodside for our #QUCaresDrive18 charity event.

To view Maars work go to https://brothermaars.tumblr.com/ right now.

Photo by Jamar Brother Maars Words by Adolfo Steve Vazquez & Jamar Brother Maars

#QUCaresDrive18

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The idea came to me from my father. Growing up, I remember how vividly he used to view New York City winters for the less fortunate. He constantly referred to the old New York Cares Coat Drive commercial that depicted a shivering Statue of Liberty sitting down holding her knees in a snowstorm.

When the winter season approaches each year the image of a freezing Lady Liberty is the still first thing that pops in mind.

So in an effort to help some of the less fortunate folks in our borough, in our most brutal season of weather, we came up with #QUCaresDrive18.

Starting from last week Black Friday up until next month Friday December 21st  2018, the Queenscapes Team is joining forces with the amazing squad over at Neirs Tavern in Woodhaven for a “winter essentials” drive, i.e., gloves, hats, scarves, canned goods, educational toys for kids, etc, to help benefit the residents of the Restfull Nights Shelter located in Jamaica, Queens.

For our culminating event we are presenting a pop-up exhibit of the 20 best Queens winter photos hashtagged #QUCaresDrive18 on Instagram. All photos submitted via hashtag should also be emailed to queenscapes@gmail.com for consideration.

Deadline to submit photos is Thursday December 13th 2018 at 11:00pmn. Tag and submit as many Queens winter shots as you can, new or old, for a chance to have your work featured in the oldest most significant bar in Queens.

As an added bonus there will be a hand-made painting from artist Brother Jamar up for raffle on exhibit night.

All photos selected and featured on this night will be up for sale and paired with all the  proceeds of the night to go to the Restfull Nights Organization in Jamaica, Queens. Admission to event will also be a small donation of winter essentials.

(Donations can be dropped either at NeirsTavern located at 87-48 78th St, Woodhaven, N.Y., 11421 or the Restfull Nights Shelter, 106-38 150th St, Jamaica, NY 11435. If you can’t get to either place, email us at queenscapes@gmail.com.)

 

Photos and words by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

2019 Queens Marathon Committee

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Yesterday I received a call from Kevin Montalvo, the Founder of Queens Distance Runners, and also the man behind the annual Queens Marathon.

Kevin reached out to me to invite me on his 2019 Queens Marathon Committee to help him expand his reach to get the word out on next years Marathon.

In 2017, Kevin had almost 200 Kids come out the day before the Queens Marathon to enjoy a Free Kids Run, which eventually convinced him to start the structure to ensure continued Training Runs for Kids, to help the can train like adults. At Queens Distance Runners, Kevin states “they aim to make Race-Day feel sacred, for Runners and for Members of the General Public, to behold what Running 26.2 Miles around Flushing Meadows Park will look like.”

I have seen Kevin and the operation behind Queens Distance Runner firsthand, as I participated in this past summer’s Inaugural Corona Mile at Flushing Meadows Corona Park and can attest to the fact that he runs a top notch operation. Under some really trying circumstances caused by a rain storm, he could not avoid, Kevin was able to run a very engaged and organized event that I was proud to be a part of.

It is because of this and Kevin’s overall dedication to Queens that I accepted to join his 2019 Queens Marathon Committee to help him promote and engage this very important event with the Queens community. We are committed to helping Kevin and the QDR crew get the word out and make sure it’s one of Queen’s must attend events of 2019.

Words and photo by Adolfo Steve Vazquez



Dia de los Muertos

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While today is officially Halloween, a day widely recognized as a lighthearted fun holiday, it is also the The Day of the Dead, or as it is known to Mexicans, Dia de los Muertos.

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday celebrated primarily throughout Mexico. The multi-day celebration starts today October 31st and runs until November 2nd. It focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey.  

Yesterday I ventured out to Jackson Heights/Corona, where the heart of the Mexican community is located, to see if I could get more information on Dia de los Muertos celebrations happening locally in Queens.

I was lucky to run into Senora Mary, (pictured above), pronounced Ma-rie on the corner of 89th Street & Roosevelt Ave in Jackson Heights. Senora Mary is a local street vendor from Puebla, Mexico who specializes in soul cleanses, spiritual cures for internal diseases, “mal de ojo” and Tarot card readings.

Along with the myriad of services above, Senora Mary also has a wealth of religious items for sale on her three tables conveniently tucked under the 90th Street – Elmhurst 7 Line station. Due to the upcoming Dia de los Muertos holiday there was some extra special items on display.

The first item that piqued my interest was the steel chain and Santisima Muerte pendant. On one side of the pendant, it featured a skeletal figure covered in a glowing bright purple robe. On the other side is a prayer for the Santisima Muerte.

As described to me by Senora Mary, the Santisima Muerte, or Santa Muerte is a female saint and central figure in the commemoration of Dia de los Muertos. Santa Muerte is affiliated with a wide range of powers, including love, good health, fortune and healing.

The other item(s) that I was intrigued by was the full table of porcelain baby Jesus dolls. The babies came in various sizes, each one white, each one unclothed. It was explained to me that the babies symbolize the birth of Jesus, and while that event represents December 24th, it holds true on days like today, where life is celebrated.

So while I didn’t find the event I was searching for, I found Senora Mary, and her small slice of Jackson Heights. I left her sanctuary with a nose and chest full of incienso de iglesia, (church incense) with some really good vibes and a better understanding of a commonly misunderstood holiday.

words and photo by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

Instagram page spotlight - @allthequeenshouses

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While I try to be as diverse and all-encompassing of all the neighborhoods and stories of Queens on the Queenscapes Instagram page, I am always also looking for that IG page that is doing photographically something different and concentrated to one of the many layers of the Queens landscape. The gem of a page, @allthequeenshouses fits that bill perfectly.

But I cannot take credit for finding Rafael Herrin-Ferri’s Instagram page, @allthequeenshouses. For that I have to thank friend and architectural photographer Ines Leong who introduced us around a month ago. Rafael, an architect himself, has been conducting a photographic survey of the housing landscape in Queens since 2012.

From Multi-Family Open-Bay Facades in Queensboro Hill to the Detached Dormer Sliding Down Porch Roof Dwellings that occupy College Point, Rafael has covered a large part of Queens, to date over 5,000 photographs worth of Queens territory.

As quoted by the article written by Teresa Mathew for City Lab 01/24/18 –

“The title of the project refers to a line from the children’s story Humpty Dumpty: “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men / couldn’t put Humpty together again.” Herrin-Ferri sees the inability to return something to its original state as a blessing in disguise.”

Finally got the opportunity to meet Rafael last night in Sunnyside, his hometown the last 15 years. We spoke about the motivation behind his project, the struggles of cultural indifference in Queens and even our own families.

I thought it was interesting that Rafael mentioned to me that he only photographs landscapes on overcast days, which as most photographers can attest to, offer the best exposure to extract the detail from your subject.

I look forward to working with Rafael soon, but in the meantime while we figure things out, please go follow https://www.instagram.com/allthequeenshouses/. You’ll thank me later.

Words by Adolfo Steve Vazquez photo by Rafael Herrin-Ferri

9th Annual Hispanic & LatinX Leadership Awards 

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A couple weeks ago I was notified by Kenny Medrano, Director of Finance, Community Organizing, and Participatory Budgeting in New York City Council’s District 26 that I was selected to receive an award from Queens Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer for my community work with Queenscapes. The recognition, while I was immediately extremely grateful for it, really shocked me. The idea of being honored for something I genuinely enjoy doing and have a real passion for, is still settling in. 

My first question to Kenny, after the shock & awe subsided was, “What do you need from me?” I figured his request was simple enough, “Send me a bio.” So I sent out the standard 3 line copy that I have been circulating all year. 

Kenny responded quickly with, “I need more.” After wrestling with it for a while, I came up with this:

Being a proud product of a Dominican mother and Puerto Rican father, provided the ideal foundation for Adolfo Steve Vazquez to flourish in a multicultural Queens. Vazquez’s love for Queens started with his adoration for the hometown New York Mets. His loyalty and appreciation to the borough only strengthened as he moved multiple times as a kid, South Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Astoria Houses, then Saint Albans.

Upon graduating Long Island City High School, he found a passion for writing. He left L.I.C.H.S as the Editor-In-Chief of their school newspaper “The Skyline” with the intention of creating his own Queens based gazette. However it wasn’t until 2014, after marriage and children, and understanding the value of raising a family in today’s Queens, that he finally thought of an idea that made sense.

The Queenscapes project was a personal venture he created as a means to fully discover his hometown with his two young sons, Roman and Saul. The objective was simple, travel to each and every neighborhood and sub-neighborhood in Queens and document what he learned onto the social media app, Instagram. Very quickly the project caught on, and became popular to not only Queens residents but also with people who grew up here and/or had appreciation for the World’s Borough.

Without prompting, the community rallied around the idea of Queenscapes, and birthed a bunch of Queens based grassroots movements. Today, Queenscapes is a full fledged community organization that looks to shine a light on the undiscovered and underappreciated areas of Queens through photography. Since late 2015, Queenscapes has either created or collaborated on over 30+ events all over Queens.

With his community collaborative exhibits he gives a chance to every Queens resident or visitor with a camera phone and a unique perspective, to be represented. This past November their #QU4PR benefit helped raised over $2,300 for Hurricane Maria relief victims in Puerto Rico.           

To RSVP for event on Monday night on October 15th 2018, please e-mail us at queenscapes@gmail.com or send us a DM with your full name on our Queenscapes Instagram page.

Words and photo by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

The Saint Albans School

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P.S. 36, The St. Albans School is located at 187-01 Foch Boulevard St. Albans, NY. This District #29 public school provides education to grades K-5. The building itself was erected in 1924 and was the first public school in an area that is home to one of New York City’s oldest and most established American neighborhoods. 

P.S. 36’s demographics are also representative of the area with African American students representing almost 90 percent of the population. 

As per a school quality snapshot provided by the NYC Department of Education only 18% of it’s students met the state standards on the state math test.

Amongst other things, P.S. 36 suffers from a lack of educational resources and a widening student/teacher ratio. It fits the the profile of the performance of New York City public schools based in economically disadvantaged areas. 

Over 70 percent of the student body come from economically disadvantaged background. 

Some background from theatlantic.com:

“The discrepancies (between poor and rich public schools) occur largely because public school districts in much of America, are run by local cities and towns and are funded by local property taxes. High-poverty areas have lower home values and collect less taxes, and so can’t raise as much money as the neighborhoods where homes are worth millions of dollars.” 

“Nationally, high-poverty districts spend 15.6 percent less per student than low-poverty districts do, according to U.S. Department of Education.” 

This from lincolnist.edu:

“Local governments provided 45 percent of public school funding in 2013–14, and more than 80 percent came from the property tax. The federal government provided less than 9 percent of the total revenue of public schools, and state governments contributed 46 percent.”

So while Saint Albans has a very rich history and primarily proud African American (and burgeoning West Indian and Caribbean) culture, it’s current infrastructure doesn’t support its children, the future of Saint Albans. The area’s schools don’t give them the best chance to come back home as adults as accomplished and proud Saint Albans natives.

Ironically, this school, P.S. 36, is the same place I voted for the African American presidential candidate Barack Obama on Tuesday November 4th 2008.

I voted for Obama, along with many of my neighbors in Saint Albans, at the time, to make a difference in our neighborhoods with the hope that the kids from this school, would be able to be have a chance to be as hopeful for their future as the kids are from the other side of town.  

#TransformationTuesday

Words and photo by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

2,000th Post

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“Don't worry about the pressure or the responsibility. Just live in it, have fun, and when everything seems to be going right, just stay humble and remember your family.”

Today I posted the 2,000th photo on the Queenscapes Instagram page.

If you have been following Queenscapes since the hashtag started back in 2014, you may or may not have realized that the idea came about as a way for me to connect intimately with my two young sons, Roman and Saul, then ages 9 & 8 respectively, while we discovered our hometown.

The objective was to explore every neighborhood with both of them and to learn as much as we could, and share our findings on social media each day. In the very beginning, we did just that. While they were possibly too young to be aware of exactly what I was trying to accomplish, I made sure we had fun while we did it.

Eventually, Queenscapes gained some media attention, and helped me earn a bunch of freelance gigs. Within a year, it became more than that, and with a lot of help from the Queens community, we were able to pull off some really amazing events in Queens, real community building endeavors.

Before I knew it though, the fun I was having in the beginning with my two sons and this passion project turned into work. Work turned into deadlines that turned into increasing pressure of completing tasks. Today I deal with the stresses of stalled commitments.

More importantly though, I have done less exploring with my sons. One of those sons, is the boy pictured above, Roman Stephen Vazquez, now age 13.

So, I while I’ve used numerous posts lately to mark certain milestones and reflect on how far Queenscapes has come, today I remember my first photos uploaded on Instagram, the first photos I took with my boys as we explored Queens.

 

Words and photos by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

Why Vote?

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For a long time, I firmly held the belief that my vote, or anyone’s single vote doesn’t really make a difference in who ultimately gets elected to office in this country. I applied this logic as the basis for not voting for many years. I used this logic as a rationale that made me feel better for not only voting, but also for not get involved in politics at all.

While I think the integrity of the popular vote is still something that should be challenged, I’ve learned expressly through the recent climate of this country, that there definitely is a greater need for us all to be informed on political matters and the policies currently in place. In the effort of searching this information, you never know… you might even allow yourself to be inspired.

Still not as versed as I would like to be, I am inspired by Jessica Ramos and the campaign she is running for the State Senate’s 13th district.

Ramos is a progressive Democrat born and raised in Queens from immigrant parents, and is focusing on fighting for working families, advocating for labor and organizing her local community. These are some of the reasons why she gets my vote today.

There are also a bunch of other offices to be decided on before today’s end, most notably the Governor of New York state. So, If you have yet to decide whether to vote or not, at least think about reading up on the folks that will potentially make a huge difference in how you live.

You may surprise yourself and get inspired.

Photo and words by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

#Queenscapes reaches 30K

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30,000 hashtags, wow. That’s 30K in Instagram language, and while I’ve seen a bunch of hashtags explode way past the 100K mark in the same 4 ½ years since I started #Queenscapes, I’m still proud at how far it has come.

While the follower count on IG has leveled off, the growth of the #Queenscapes hashtag has been consistently growing throughout the years, and today, it is basically double the amount of our total follower count on Instagram.

Lately though, with the ease of purchasing followers and the lack of integrity in which some folks use their accounts, your follower count doesn’t measure your engagement to your audience as accurately as the use of an universal hashtag.

A hashtag in our case that is not the easiest to spell out, not the shortest one to type. #Queenscapes with one “s”, not two.

Today, I thank everyone who has every used the #Queenscapes hashtag past, present and future. Because of you I have kept on, because of you I know the Queens community still needs this Instagram page.

(Also stay tuned on our Instagram page for an upcoming #Queenscapes 30K celebration / fundraising event coming soon folks.)

 

Words and photo by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

The Inaugural Corona Mile Race

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Last Thursday morning I received an email by Kevin Montalvo Founder of Queens Distance Runners (QDR) to notify me that on behalf of QDR, he wanted to honor me at their Inaugural Corona Mile as a “Community Champion” for leading the way in the work we have done in Corona and Queens abroad.

Paired with the fact that I have been wanting to participate in a QDR event for the longest time and looking for opportunities that allow me to prove that Queenscapes practices what we preach as a community organization that promotes healthy lifestyle initiatives, this was a no-brainer for me to accept. So I agreed be a part of the race, and was excited for the chance to actually run with the folks of the world’s greatest borough for the first official race I have ever run.

Also, I figured it’s only a one mile race, how difficult could it really be? Even though, saying that I’m a little out of shape is a huge understatement, even I had to be able to pull this off.

Plus I had a little extra motivation as I had my colleagues and close friends, Ashley Dean, the Founder of the Queens Hip Hop Festival and Ruben Ramales, Managing Director of American Institute of Architects of Queens also selected as Community Champions of the Corona Mile as my racemates. To make things more interesting I made it a family affair by enlisting my sons Roman and Saul to join along with me.

The night before race day, I realized that the weather for the Corona Mile was not going to be agreeable. With thunderstorms predicted all morning, it wasn’t just getting wet that worried me, but also the safety of my two young children.

We played it by ear the next morning, and right after a real lengthy downpour, and a break in the rain, we rushed over to the Unisphere to be ready for the start of the race. Unfortunately, we did not beat the worse of the rain, and the prospect of the piece of cake run I envisioned this to be, was washed away in the deluge that ensued.

But we ran anyway with a bunch of other dedicated and brave runners, through the thunder and lightning and completed what we set out to accomplish, together.

Words by Adolfo Steve Vazquez Photo by Elitefeats

#FMCoronaPark18 Photo Exhibit Recap

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 “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” – Coretta Scott King

While community building has always been one of the tenets of Queenscapes, lately it seems like it stands at the very forefront of what we do today.

With the culmination of the two part program #FMCoronaPark18, one of our  biggest accomplishments with the project is not just the community engagement and healthy living initiatives we successfully reached, but also how we managed to continually foster the already thoughtful and caring Queenscapes community.

Even though a goal for each project is to reach out to as many new folks, to expand and tap into as many diverse audiences as possible, in Queens and beyond, we really care about our original core of supporters that have followed us from our early days, when we were just pictures on Instagram.

It is because of the original diehard Queens enthusiasts, the original Queens kids, that helped us build the steam that is currently still flowing from one project to the next.  It is because of the select few that spread the word wide enough, that we feel we must stay loyal to the continual building of our community instead of simply taking and posting nice photos of Queens.

So it was an honor to be able to have these same core group of followers along for the ride into the Queens Museum a couple weeks ago. It was an honor to have their photos alongside mine in a space that has always been a goal for me to eventually exhibit in.

Special shout-out to Charles Valencia of Jackson Heights, but currently in Glen Oaks. Charles has followed me for over 4 years, consistently offering feedback, and participating in as much Queenscapes IRL events as he possibly can.

Just a couple weeks before the exhibit, Charles approached me to get some advice about an idea he had for his old neighborhood.  A lifelong Queens native, he wanted to give back to his community he loved and lived in, in the best way he knew how. I was honored that he thought of me to present his idea, impressed with his plan, and overjoyed that we inspired him enough to take action in his hometown.

Fast forward a couple weeks later, and Charles Valencia of Jackson Heights, becomes the random (key word) Grand Prize winner of the #FMCoronaPark18 Photo Contest acquiring two round trip tickets on a Delta Airlines flight.

Just recently back from a family vacation to Seattle, Charles is pictured above being embraced by his daughter and surrounded by his wife and son, at the announcement of his prize. Fitting for a guy who embraced the idea of Queenscapes early on, and helped us create the community he currently strives in. Well deserved Charles.

Photo and words by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

A Story of Socrates Sculpture Park

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As a resident of the nearby Astoria Houses for a significant amount of my formative years in the late 1990’s, the unfinished Socrates Sculpture Park felt like my own personal sanctuary.

I am thankful and grateful that even though Socrates’ programming has evolved tremendously, (and lately more so under the helm of Astoria kid Audrey Dimola), the landscape of the place is still very raw, still very unfinished.

It was in this landscape that I learned to appreciate the natural terrain of Queens. In all its abandonment, I was able to appreciate how peaceful Socrates was and how it was so unlike the rest of the urban Queens I was familiar with. I loved looking across the East River and unto the shape of Hallets Cove, the skyline of the massive 22 building Astoria housing project.

I remember first distinguishing low and high tides from the waves crashed against the base of the park, or didn’t at all. It was easier to figure out when the tide was low because it made the stench in the air unforgettable.

While most would say Socrates is located in an area that exhibits the worst of Queens’ nature, it was the nature I knew. It’s where I was able to slow down the rapidly moving parts of my neighborhood. Socrates was where I found peace.

So while this Saturday, Socrates’ expects to be a lot more lively with Video Music Box coming into town for “Ralph McDaniels’ Hip Hop in the Park,” it’s still essentially the same park I remember it to be as a kid.

I’m also honored to be a part of the day’s programming and look forward to engaging with the crowd, and hearing everyone’s own stories of growing up in Queens, and learn more about how they were influenced by Hip Hop and the legendary Video Music Box.

Photo and words by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

#CapturedInQueens - GeeQue                                 

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"Loyalty is still the same, whether it win or lose the game; true as a dial to the sun, although it be not shined upon."

While my love of Queens comes from the fact that this town is the only home I know, my loyalty to this place started with rooting for the New York Mets, (the only professional sports franchise in Queens), as kid.

But while I consider myself a true diehard, nobody is more loyal to the New York Mets, than Jason “Gee Que” Gomez. 

As of July 18, 2018, Gee has attended 35 games. 35 games in 3 1/2 months for a team in last place. Each year he usually attends 60-65 games, regardless if the Mets win or lose. It really doesn't get more diehard than GeeQue.

A tried and true Uptown Manhattan kid, Jason doesn't correlate his loyalty to the New York Mets with Queens either. He just loves the Mets.

Gee's obsession with the orange and blue started when he was first exposed to baseball at 5 years old by his mother when she first enrolled him in little league. He also remembers right around the same time his mother would also take him to Shea Stadium, where he was captivated early on by likable superstars, Mookie Wilson, Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.

Fast forward 30 years later, and Gee is still here, still rooting, even harder than he ever has, true as a dial to the sun. 

Check out our #CapturedInQueens feature on @queenscapes for more cool facts on GeeQue.

Words and Photos by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

 

 

 

#FMCoronaPark18 Photo Walk Recap

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Two weeks ago on Saturday afternoon on June 30th we ventured out with a group that consisted of almost 50 participants total, to venture out to explore the underappreciated and underexposed Southern section of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

The photo walk was the first event of a two part program, titled #FMCoronaPark18, and was created by the Queenscapes team in collaboration with the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Community Advisory Board, the Alliance for Flushing Meadows Park, the New York City Parks Department, and the Queens Museum as an initiative to help re-establish NYC parks as viable resource for the general public and to promote healthier communities within the boroughs.

While we were excited to host this photo walk, our first of 2018, we were a little concerned with the weather forecast, days leading into the event. Local stations advised that everyone should stay home and stay cool. We even threw the idea around of postponing the walk, considering that even though we expected a few brave souls to march on with us, that our overall engagement and impact would be affected significantly.

I’m glad to say we choose not to postpone. While the number of participants was lower than we expected, the folks that did come quickly became acquainted and comfortable with each other. The heatwave that everyone was scared about, became the cause we rallied around. 

We made multiple and additional stops along our walking route, and we checked in with each other as the heat intensified throughout the day. We kept an eye out on the older participants and made sure we communicated with everyone as much as possible.

I also really believe because we were so united in the beginning of our meet, it lead us to be entrusted with the safety of a minor teenage girl.

Her mom introduced herself briefly to me, and plainly stated that she wanted her daughter here by herself. She expressed that she wanted her daughter to break out of her shell and felt that this photo walk was the perfect opportunity. 

So even though we certainly did not reach the numbers we projected, 140 registered on Eventbrite, I do not believe without the heatwave, we would not have had a reason to be as united as we were. Or maybe it was because most of the day's participants were Queens natives, and we inherently, are tougher than most.

Folks, we invite you all to the second half of #FMCoronaPark18, a two-day pop-up photo exhibit that starts on Saturday, July 21st, 2018.

Click on the Queens Museum link below for more details:

https://www.queensmuseum.org/events/fmcoronapark18-pop-up-photo-exhibit

Photo by Mike Shain Words by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

 

Goodbye Ben's Best of Rego Park

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Melville, Long Island, Clifton, New Jersey. Some town in Pennsylvania, and some other place in Connecticut.

I remember even partially the names of these locations, because it came as an impromptu announcement from each customer that walked into Ben’s Best Kosher Deli on its last day, in its last hour, this past Saturday night.

Jay Parker, son of Benjamin Parker, the original owner and founder of Ben’s Best, was quoted as saying, “I don’t depend on the local people.” Although it is typical for destination restaurants, just like Ben’s to rely on out of the borough or out of town customers, I always felt there was a sense of injustice that not enough Queens residents just walked into the place located conveniently on Queens Boulevard.

You couldn’t get past the door before you were bombarded with old relics and news clippings that linked Ben’s Best to New York City, pieces of history that permanently cemented the restaurant in the fabric of Queens. Back in the day, Ben’s even sponsored a little league team in Rego Park for years.

David Sax, author of “Save the Deli” said, “Ben’s Best is one of the last remaining old school kosher delis left in New York, the last one in Queens, and also just one of the best and tastiest delis anywhere.”

And even considering all that, Queens still couldn’t care any less.

A couple of years ago, I was introduced to Jay Parker through a third party, a meeting with the intent of helping the restaurant get some social media exposure. Jay was grasping at straws even then, desperately looking for alternative ways to get some buzz for his deli. I thought it was ironic, yet tragic that Ben’s Best should’ve been closer to landmark status in Queens, instead of being treated like the infamous chopped liver they carried in their displays.

I wish the social media influence of Queenscapes would’ve made the difference back then, wish we could’ve knocked some sense into the Queens community and keep the old place open.

I’ll always remember our conversation on cameras that ran way too long two years ago, and him remembering me because I was the guy who adjusted a broken automatic lens, manually.

Pictured above is Jay Parker personally greeting his last customer at Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen located at 96-40 Queens Boulevard, Rego Park, N.Y. established in 1945.

Photo and words by Adolfo Steve Vazquez

Vote Ocasio-Cortez - Inspired by Jennifer Mason

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Although I am not a fan of politics, and have very little interest in participating in political events, I still root heavily for individual causes. I root for folks that still have the capacity to be inspired. I root for these folks, and I root for their stories.

I root for folks like Jennifer Mason.

I learned of Jennifer through Instagram. After going through the dozen or so images hashtagged #Queenscapes, a photo that she took really caught my attention, and after another round of elimination, was eventually chosen as the Queenscapes #IconicQueenscapes feature of the week.

After selecting her photo, I sent Jennifer a direct message to ask for permission to repost her photo and also for some basic background info to add to the caption. Here is Jennifer’s response in its entirety:

“I was born on Long Island, New York and now live in lower Manhattan. My family have been New Yorkers for generations, having built their lives in Italian communities around the city.

I am a casual photographer and after becoming disillusioned with my career in the fashion industry, I was looking to be involved in something more uplifting.

I’ve followed the campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for months and have really been taken in by her pursuit of progressive, humanist policies and complete rejection of the corporate-bought political machines that usually run things around here. I finally found the nerve to volunteer in May and joined the photography team covering her run for Congress in New York’s 14th district, which includes many neighborhoods in Queens.

My hope is by sharing what I’ve documented on Instagram that fellow New Yorkers will see some of the hustle and the heart that has gone into this campaign and maybe a few will be intrigued enough to learn more, to volunteer, and if I’m lucky, even decide to vote Ocasio this Tuesday, June 26.

Deep in the communities of the toughest city on earth, hope still lives here.”

To view Jennifer’s full gallery of the Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez campaign go to her Instagram page @jennymie. I dare you not to be inspired.

Photo by Jennifer Mason Words by Jennifer Mason Adolfo Steve Vazquez