Behind the lens with photographer Joe Raskin
by Michael Perlman
Mar 20, 2019 | 10259 views | 0 0 comments | 273 273 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit
Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit
Joe Raskin with his father.
Joe Raskin with his father.
Queens native Joe Raskin is an avid urban explorer and chronicler of New York City.

“I've posted over 48,000 photographs on Wandering New York over the last seven years, but that's just a drop in the bucket considering how long I've been taking pictures,” he said of the number of photos he has taken. “It’s easily well over triple that number.”

He primarily documents buildings of varying architectural styles, followed by subway and commuter rail lines. Every so often, his eye will turn to nature.

“Ideally, I am out every day of the week in one part of the city or another for about two to three hours,” said Raskin. “Creative expression is a wonderful thing, and it always feels great to be out and about taking photographs.”

He credits his father Jack, who passed away six years ago, for instilling in him a love of photography.

“My dad was always taking a lot of family pictures,” Raskin said. “I began using his 35-millimeter cameras in the late 1970s. My original camera was a Kodak Brownie, followed by a Kodak Instamatic.”

Today his cameras of choice are a Panasonic Lumix and Casio Exilim, and even his Samsung Galaxy phone.

“Berenice Abbott, Arnold Eagle and Todd Webb's work has an immense effect on me, with Abbott's in particular,” he added. “They made it easier to focus on subjects and appreciate the everyday scenes of life in the city.”

For 33 years, Raskin resided in Rochdale Village, Sunnyside, and Astoria, but now calls Chelsea home. Prior to retirement, he served as assistant director of Government and Community Relations at the MTA, and authored the book “The Routes Not Taken, A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System.”

He is a graduate of York College, where he majored in political science, and received a master’s degree in Urban Studies from Queens College.

“I took a photography class at York, which certainly enriched my interest, but I would describe myself as self-taught,” he said.

Some of Raskin’s most memorable experiences are when he encounters people in the neighborhoods he shoots.

“I get into conversations about their communities, and for the most part they are curious about my work and enjoy that I'm taking pictures there,” he said. “I'll explain that I’m not a real estate agent or working for one. They even suggest other places for me to look.”

A recent exploration took him to the Rego Park Crescents, and he often shoots in Forest Hills Gardens

“It’s hard not to get a little bit lost there,” he said of the Crescents. “Both communities are consistently beautiful. Although there are some new buildings, much hasn't changed in decades and hopefully it remains that way.

“What's most meaningful is knowing how these buildings and streets tell the story of how the city grew and expanded from just the downtown areas in each borough,” he added.

But are there any neighborhoods that Raskin has overlooked?

“There has to be some that I've missed,” he said. “I'd like to think that at some point I've walked on every city block.”

Raskin has learned how each section of a neighborhood can offer a spirit of its own.

“For the most part, the stereotype images of each community are wrong,” he said. “I've learned not to take any neighborhood for granted. If it wasn't for my photographic trips, I wouldn’t know much about areas like Stuyvesant Heights and Longwood.”
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