In 2013, photographer Jay Weinstein was taking pictures in Bikaner, India, when his eye was drawn to a man with a narrow face and wispy beard, side-lit by the shop he was leaning in front of. The picture would have been perfect, but he hesitated, intimidated by the man’s stern expression and the harsh look in his eyes. He gave up on the shot and proceeded to photograph other subjects until he was interrupted by a friendly shout: “Hey, take my picture too!” It was the same man, completely transformed now, as a smile lit up his face.
This was the inspiration for “So I Asked Them to Smile,” a photography project Weinstein has been dedicated to ever since, which captures a diverse array of subjects with and without smiles. The striking results will more often than not put a smile on your face as a viewer, but they also challenge us to question the assumptions we often make when confronted with unsmiling strangers. Our faces at rest are no indication of how we’re feeling or what we’re like (something people who go around telling strangers to “cheer up” desperately need to learn), and a smile — freely given—can completely transform the way you see someone new, upending an array of judgements you never even knew you were making.