In 2003, Frank Gohlke and Joel Sternfeld were commissioned to photograph one of the densest concentrations of ethnic diversity in the world, the borough of Queens in New York City. After more than a year of photographing everything from corner bodegas to the borough’s boundaries, Gohlke and Sternfeld had not only captured the complicated dynamic that sustains Queens and its myriad communities; they had also evolved a unique theory of landscape photography in which landscape is a visible manifestation of the invisible emotions of its inhabitants.
The collection inherits the strength of each photographer’s eye. Gohlke’s Queens consists of streets, houses, fences, gardens, parklands, shorelines, and waste spaces, the territory where human arrangement contends endlessly with the forces that undo it: unruly vegetation, weather, rot, decay, and the “creative destruction” of a voracious commercial culture. Sternfeld focuses on the indigenous shops, restaurants, mosques and temples that make a walk in Queens feel like a walk in Thailand, India or Peru—or all of them at once. Often tucked into homes or converted factories, these places signify a home country, or perhaps a home country that exists more in the mind than in actuality.
In conjunction with an essay by the acclaimed writer Suketu Mehta, this book is a powerful instrument for understanding a landscape that seems to defy interpretation. Gohlke and Sternfeld successfully make the dizzying patchwork of Queens accessible and visible.