LaGuardia Community College Student Photography Exhibition Captures the People and Places of Astoria

Long Island City, NY—April 10, 2013—LaGuardia Community College, in partnership with an international research institute, on April 11 will open a student photography exhibition that looks at the people and places that make up the rich cultural diversity of Astoria.  The 50 stunning black-and-white and color images, which are part of the institute’s research project on the diversity of the Queens neighborhood, will be exhibited through the end of June before traveling to Europe, Asia and Africa.  


The April 11th opening reception of the “Astoria Project” exhibition will take place at the LaGuardia Gallery of Photographic Arts, located in the College’s B-building (3rd floor) at 30-20 Thomson Avenue, Long Island City, from 6 to 8 p.m.  


“LaGuardia is located on the edge of this neighborhood and I wanted to incorporate a local institution into my project,” said Dr. Anna Cieslik, the project coordinator, who added that she had seen a prior photography exhibition of student work and was very impressed.  “Apart from relying on my photos, I wanted to see the neighborhood through students’ eyes, and find out how they perceive their neighborhood.”


The Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity approached LaGuardia this past summer with a request to have its commercial photography students take professional-quality images that evoke the diversity of Astoria.   


Scott Sternbach, director of the commercial photography program, said that the students who took on the assignment were given total artistic freedom.  “There was no structure,” he said.  “They just were asked to express diversity in their own way, whether it was through portraits, mixed environment with portraiture, or street scenes.”


Commercial photography graduate, Youngkyu Park, and current student, Alvaro Imbrett, decided to combine their talents and team up to take studio-like portraits of joggers at the Astoria Park track during the evening hours.  Posing the subjects and taking the shots with a large format camera were Alvaro’s jobs while Youngkyu was responsible for composing the photographs, adjusting the lighting and retouching the final images.  Assisting Youngkyu and Alvaro was fellow classmate, Olga Cherkasova.


The photographers admitted that their project produced a number of challenges.  “The biggest challenge was removing ourselves from our comfort zone to experience and manage things outside the norm,” said Alvaro.  “There was no studio, there were no models selected and being on location on an active track was quite challenging.”


They overcame the obstacles, and the results were striking images.  “They are pure, artistic portraits,” said Youngkyu.  “Coming through in each photo, is the runner’s character and personality.”


For example, the serious side of Brian Rocco, a wheelchair runner, is captured in a beautifully lighted portraiture.


Lessons learned?  “Not only did we learn to manage ourselves as photographers,” said Alvaro, “but our individual visions came together to form strong images that represented both of us.”


Eddie Santillan also learned a valuable lesson.  When he decided to capture the diversity of the neighborhood through portraiture, he said he remembered the words of Mr. Sternbach.  “He told us to try and interact with your subject by getting to know the person as much as you can in the little time you have,” he said.  “We would get more out of your photos.”


The idea of walking up to a prospective subject and sitting down and talking to he or she before taking the photo, was something Eddie had never done before.  But when he saw Casper, an Italian-American resident dressed in a white tank top and baseball hat, he approached him, explained his photo assign, and the two sat down and chatted for a few minutes before he took the photo.


Looking at Casper’s portrait, Eddie said he now understands what his professor was saying.  “You can see in his eyes, this intimacy,” he said.


Although there are many neighborhood images, portraiture dominates the exhibition.  “I found it very interesting that for many students’ interethnic encounters seemed to be the encounter between themselves and their subjects,” said Dr. Cieslik.  “As a result we have more portraits than I expected.  They are all absolutely stunning.”


Mr. Sternbach said the project was an invaluable learning experience for his students.  “Having the students collaborate on a professional level impacted their education at LaGuardia and helped them to better understand the transition they will eventually be making into the real world.”


“Because of this experience,” said Eddie, “I truly believe I am a better photographer.”


After the exhibition closes in June, it will travel to different locations in Germany, the first being Goettingen, the hometown of Max Planck Institute, and then on to other research locations in Singapore and Johannesburg. 


The exhibition viewing hours are Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  For more information, please call (718) 482-5985 or (718) 349-4028 or e-mail



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The Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity is one of the newest research initiatives of the Max Planck Society, which is Germany’s leading research organization with more than 80 institutes across the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences and humanities.  The institute is dedicated to the comparative, multi-disciplinary study of diversity in historical and contemporary societies.  Studies address migration-related contexts as well a contexts long characterizes by different kinds of socio-cultural and religious diversity, such as in South African, the Balkans, India and Southeast Asia.



LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit to learn more.