The Urban Lens: Queens-born Kris Graves captures a rapidly disappearing side of Long Island City

Posted On Fri, May 11, 2018 By

Posted On Fri, May 11, 2018 By In Features, photography, Queens, The urban lens

Condo Construction, Long Island City, New York, 2008 © Kris Graves

6sqft’s series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, Kris Graves shares photos from his “A Queens Affair“. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].

Queens-born photographer Kris Graves has been shooting his series “A Queens Affair” since 2005. Recently, he published a limited edition and currently sold-out softcover book, LOST LIC, containing some of his thousands of shots of the borough. A hater of glass, he describes his motives to take photos of LIC simply: he wants to capture the rapidly disappearing nooks and crannies of the neighborhood before they’re gone forever. While some of his previous work, including photos of every police precinct in New York, have been comprehensive, with “A Queens Affair,” Graves admits he does not know if the project will ever truly be complete.

Kris Graves
From Long Island City, New York, 2011

What first got you into photography?

Well, when I was in school I got interested in photographing landscapes. It was around the time that a lot of landscape photographers were getting really famous with big prints. In college, I switched to wanting to make big ass landscapes. So I’d go out on the street every day with all this big equipment; I used a view camera, that’s how I used to make a lot of photographs. It was a very slow process, and always with a tripod. These days I don’t do much of that. Shooting with a view camera slows you down to the point where you can’t take more than a few photographs a day.

Kris Graves
Another Storage Space, Long Island City, New York, 2015

What inspired you to start your “A Queens Affair” project?

I started “A Queens Affair” because I like landscapes, and I was living in Queens after college and had nothing to do but get on a bike and take pictures. After doing it for awhile, I realized stuff was changing and decided to focus on neighborhoods that were changing more. Living in Astoria was cool, but there’s not much movement and architecture. Also, Woodside didn’t really change up, so I was more interested in neighborhoods in flux, like Long Island City.

I probably have 5,000 photographs of Queens, and I have probably shown people under 50 of them.

Kris Graves
Pentecostal Christian and Big Allis, Long Island City, New York, 2012

Do you like how the neighborhood’s changing?

I hate glass, so I can photograph less and less. Before there was some emptiness, now when you’re on the street, you’re going past a whole row of glass.

I have photographs where it’s just the Pepsi Cola sign and rubble, but now five buildings block that view. I still shoot, though, but trying to find new spots to photograph is difficult. I started to just walk around LIC about nine years ago before any of these buildings were even here.

Kris Graves
Queens Plaza, LIC, New York, 2017

How will you know when you’re done with this project?

I don’t think it’s actually something that will finish, I think I’ll probably photograph in Queens for as long as I live here, at least. It just keeps moving. I try to get out on the street as much as possible. I quit my job to be on the street more. I’ll walk five miles a day, 10,000 steps or something. I’ll just get out at a random train station and walk home.

Kris Graves
Vernon Blvd, Long Island City, New York, 2014

Do you photographs portraiture, or only landscapes in Queens?

It’s mainly been the landscapes. In my personal practice, I don’t really photograph strangers so often – it’s usually friends, family, and friends of friends, people I have a connection to.

So do you wait for people to get out of a shot?

Yes, if I have to. It’s not Manhattan, it’s not so hard to wait.

Kris Graves

Kris Graves
Queensbridge, Long Island City, New York, 2013

Are you ever happy about the development going on in LIC?

No. If all of it was three-story developments, four-story little brick walk-ups, that would be great, fantastic. That would not be overpopulation. That would be the way things move, but because they’re just trying to pack as many people into the space as possible, it’s just not healthy. The neighborhood is not soulless but it could be pretty soon. There’s a lot of new buildings being developed and I can see there’s going to be 10,000-15,000 more people in the area in a two-mile radius. So it’s going to change.

I can’t complain, I have a nice rent-stabilized apartment on the water with a view of Queens and the city. I love living in LIC because it’s very close to everything – Manhattan is one stop away, I can get anywhere in under half an hour in a cab, it makes NYC much easier and accessible. If I lived in Jackson Heights everywhere I go would be a pain in the ass every time. If I had two bedrooms I’d never leave.

Kris Graves
Queensboro Plaza, New York, 2005 vs. 2017

Overall there is a lack of color, or predominantly muted colors, in most of your photos. Was this intentional, or a pattern that emerged over time?

I shoot on non-sunny days. I don’t do much editing with the photographs. I don’t use a lot of Photoshop, I just color correct a bit, straighten up the lines. I’m an artist, so I do what I want with the files, but there’s nothing unrealistic about the photographs. That’s why pretty much all of my photos match.

Kris Graves
Queens Plaza, Long Island City, New York, 2014

The photos are, like Queens, so disparate – what do you feel the overall narrative presented is?

I think photography has an inherent lack of narrative. Without reading about something you have to make all the assumptions yourself. I’m just trying to photograph things the way they exist, the way I see them existing. It’s personal, in a way

I am a fan of history and photography and New York, so I wanna just keep photographing so there’s something left. A lot of people have photographed Queens, but I’m trying to make an architecturally historic record of what these streets looked like before it was all glass – the street corners and little alleyways, stuff that never exists forever.

Kris Graves
RIP 5Pointz, Long Island City, New York, 2013

Kris Graves
Court Square, Long Island City, New York, 2011.jpg

Kris Graves
Department of Health, Long Island City, New York, 2015

Kris Graves
From the Old Kosciuszko Bridge, Queens, New York, 2017

Kris Graves
Before the 2nd Citi Building, Long Island City, New York, 2005

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All photographs © Kris Graves

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Neighborhoods : Long Island City

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