Back in December 2013, Jay Weinstein went on a photography trip to Bikaner, a city in the northwestern part of Rajasthan, India. While shooting in a busy train station, he saw someone he wanted to photograph, but then he hesitated.
"The look in his eye and his stony, stern look intimidated me," Weinstein told A Plus. "It's always that moment of hesitation that kills a shot. I ended up avoiding him and photographing other subjects until I heard his jovial voice, 'Take my picture, too!' "
So he did. Except something changed. As soon as he asked him to smile for the camera, the man was transformed. "His face radiated warmth, his eyes sparkled with a humor I had completely missed. Even his posture softened," Weinstein said.
That encounter inspired a new photography project called So I Asked Them To Smile. It's dedicated to showing before and after photos of people once they're asked to smile. The results show that seeing people with happiness written across their faces can completely change your perception of them.
"There has been no conscious effort to make images of specific cultural, socio-economic or religious people," Weinstein said. "In the country I call home, India, for example, I am very aware that the images are not truly representative of the vast diversity in the country. However, that is not my goal. These images follow the illogical journey of my inspiration and fears."
As he travels to various places, Weinstein is on the lookout for people to photograph for his project. But it's not always easy. "Some days I cannot bring myself to approach anyone, which is one of the hurdles of being an introvert. It is a never-ending challenge for me to approach strangers, wherever I am in the world," he said. "So each image is the result of several events occurring at once: a face or person that inspires me, the strength to surmount my own fear, and the kindness of the people willing to be photographed."
In the past, we've shown you a project that reveals the impact of a single sentence. In this one, we're showing you what a single word can do: "Smile."
This serves as a beautiful reminder that we can't possibly draw accurate conclusions about people based on first impressions. Our assumptions can be totally and completely wrong, and we could be missing out on interactions with lovely people because of them.
"I have been blown away by how sweet the vast majority of people I have encountered are, irrespective of country or culture," Weinstein said. "My goal is not to make gritty images that show the hardship of their lives, there are plenty of brilliant photographers who shine a light there. My attempt is to capture something beautiful in them regardless of if they are smiling or not. I think that is what viewers are responding to."
You can check out some of his photos in the series below:
1. Taken: Khonoma in Nagaland, Northeast India
2. Taken: Hampi in Karnataka, India
3. Taken: South Wharf in Melbourne, Australia
4. Taken: Swayambhunath in Kathmandu, Nepal
5. Taken: Kakhsar in Gujarat, India
6. Taken: Khonoma in Nagaland, Northeast India
7. Taken: Juhu Beach in Mumbai, India
To see more photos in this series, check out So I Asked Them To Smile's project page.