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Photos courtesy of Matt Dutile
Photos courtesy of Matt Dutile
Local photographer Matt Dutile is exhibiting his "Astorians" photo series at Kinship Coffee Cooperative.

Local travel and lifestyle photographer Matt Dutile’s career takes him all over the world: Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Europe and a variety of islands. Clicking through his online portfolio is like taking a tour of the globe, with colorful shots of exotic locales, pictures of food you could almost taste and portraits that give you a glimpse into far-away people’s lives.

But it wasn’t until recently that Dutile, who has lived in Astoria for four years, realized that while he’d captured the faces of people across many time zones, he’d never focused on portraits of his own neighbors.

“I travel to all these really interesting locales for different magazines, and while there, I’m always looking to capture interesting portraits,” he said. “I came back and I was like, ‘This would be kind of cool to do back here in Astoria because we have diverse characters and such an interesting set of people here.’

“You certainly can’t beat Queens for character, personality and diversity,” he added.

Matt Dutile

Matt Dutile

He had previously displayed photos from his travels in the Kinship Coffee Cooperative shops on Steinway Street — plus, he’s “constantly getting coffee at both of their locations” — so he reached out to the owner and proposed doing a portrait-based project there called “Astorians.”

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At each of the Kinship Coffee locations, Dutile took over a corner of the shop for a day and set up a solid backdrop.

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He asked “literally anyone who walked in the front door” if they’d like to be part of his photo project. He’d ask them to think of a happy moment, a sad moment or some sort of contemplation to get a variety of looks, “because I didn’t want it to be too grip-and-grin posey,” he said. He took three or four photos of each person, and the whole process took no more than 30 seconds.

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One of the funniest moments was when a stuntman in the area shooting an HBO show came into the shop. For his photo, he did a headstand on top of a 4-foot-high table, and “everyone in the coffee shop paused” to watch, Dutile said, laughing.

When putting the photo collection together after the shoot dates, he chose photos that fit the “overall mood of the project”: those with notes of unity or a range of expressions. He then put together a photo display in each coffee shop, tailored to the shape of the wall he had to work with: the 32-14 Steinway St. location by the subway stop has photos arranged in the shape of the word “Astoria,” while the 30-05 Steinway St. location has photos in a block grid.

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Dutile’s photos of Astorians prove that you don’t have to travel abroad to meet fascinating people.

“There are so many interesting characters walking about and you never really stop to appreciate people because we’re in New York; we’re just constantly trying to go where we’re going,” he said. “We’re always running about, so you may walk down the street, and unless someone’s wearing something extravagantly interesting, you just generally pass by people.”

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He added that “Astorians” gives residents a chance to appreciate their neighbors.

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“This gives you a moment to stop and look at people and appreciate them for some of the unique characteristics they have, whether that’s what they’re wearing or how they’re looking, all the diversity of character they embody.”

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The portraits are able to give viewers a tiny glimpse into others’ lives:

“It’s a small snapshot into 1-second window of this person’s life,” Dutile said. “Take a look at them and appreciate them in this singular moment. That’s the idea behind it: appreciate your fellow neighbors. Look at all these cool people who live here in Astoria with you.”

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The photo collection isn’t meant to be a cross-section of the neighborhood, but a look at the Kinship customers on one specific day.

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“The project isn’t meant to be a full compendium of the diversity of the neighborhood, as it’s definitely missing lots of different groups that live here, most likely a lot of lifelong natives, too,” Dutile said. “Rather, it’s meant to be a cool window into characters of the neighborhood through the lens of customers of Kinship Coffee. To do a full diversity project would require a lot more research and a different approach. This is more a look at some interesting faces who volunteered.”

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Dutile expects the photos to be on display for a few months, so be sure to take a look before they’re gone.

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The photographer gave the photo subjects the opportunity to pick up a copy of their photos as a thank-you for being a part of the project, and he said he didn’t want to commercialize the project.

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Dutile said he had a fun time meeting people in the neighborhood, and he’s bumped into people after the project while walking down the street or in the coffee shop — an opportunity he wouldn’t usually get while taking portraits around the world.

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Dutile has loved having Astoria as his home base throughout his travels.

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“No matter where I go and travel in the world, when I come home, I can go and find the food there. I can go and travel to Burma and then come back and go, ‘There’s probably some Burmese food within 20 blocks that I can find here.’ I love that experience of knowing that I can go to all these different places and there’s little bits of travel back here in Astoria.

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“Astoria, to me, is sort of the perfect area: you get a great community sense; you get a really diverse neighborhood; you have tons of amazing food; and it’s easy enough to get into the city — and to the airport, for me.”

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