BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Dutch Kills is the subject of Salvador Espinoza’s photography, and it refuses to sit still for a portrait.
Espinoza, a Dutch Kills resident for more than 30 years, is a fine arts photographer, photojournalist and member of Long Island City Artists. His project, “We Will Be Here,” documents the changing landscape of Dutch Kills, photo by photo.
For Espinoza, “We Will Be Here” is somewhat personal, constituting in part his slipping grasp on the Dutch Kills he knew growing up.
“Every time I would come [after moving away], I’d see a different building being knocked down or a new one being built, the landscape changing week to week,” Espinoza said. “All the places I’d known growing up were just disappearing, and I kept thinking to myself that someone should document what was going on.”
He also remembered seeing a photography book published by the Greater Astoria Historical Society of the area at the turn of the century.
“That got me thinking about documenting Dutch Kills and what it was to people before this rezoning,” he said.
In 2008, Dutch Kills was approved for rezoning that removed restrictions on residential development and conversations.
Espinoza moved back to Dutch Kills from Sunnyside in 2010. He said, “[this project has] also made me reflect and come to terms with the fact that I cannot afford a home here and that unfortunately, I’ll have to look elsewhere.”
Richard Mazda is a Long Island City artist and owner of the Secret Theatre. He told the Queens Tribune in May that he has found an “amazingly diverse and talented group of artists that clustered around western Queens.”
However, he added, “the possibility of the real estate boom is some of those artists might be moved out from higher rent.”
“I’m not fundamentally opposed to development in Dutch Kills; as with all things evolution and change is vital,” Espinoza said. “I do think that going forward, when this kind of rezoning takes place, it’s important to consider the effect it has on working class neighborhoods.”
Espinoza is constructing this project at a time when the transformation of Long Island City dominates the community consciousness.
In late June, Community Board 1 voted to deny Alma Realty’s proposed development at Astoria Cove, unless a number of conditions – including increasing affordable housing units and promising to use local labor in construction – are met by developers.
“I hope people could see that Dutch Kills, even with all the rezoning and development that has happened, was and still is a neighborhood made up of people who have strong ties to their community,” Espinoza said.
“These weren’t people who decided to come here because it was trendy or to start businesses to make money off of tourists. They were here because of circumstance or they genuinely loved the area,” Espinoza added. “They made the most out of what they could and in doing so they created a community that to me is really special.”
According to Espinoza, the project is still growing and evolving. He is accepting photo submissions from the community and is interested in taking portraits of area residents. Interested parties should visit facebook.com/dutchkillswewillbehere.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.