Faces of Riverdale still fascinate photographer

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“Hustle” is a prominent word in Arnie Adler’s vocabulary.

It’s defined by his move from working as a staff photographer for Crain’s New York Business, to making a commitment to freelance photography over the last 30 years, photographing countless famous faces from Donald Trump to prominent Riverdale politicians like Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz.

It’s a love that’s also allowed him to be “lucky” enough to make a living by it — something many can’t say about something they’re undeniably passionate about it.

“I’ve never been in the financial position to just sit around and wait for the perfect job,” Adler said. “So I always found out working creates opportunity, creates contacts.”

Over the years, Adler’s love for photography led to an assignment of his own. He’s behind “1,000 Faces of Riverdale,” an ongoing portrait project that documents people who live in the area. 

It started seven years ago, but has been on hiatus since about 2012 because Adler wasn’t getting the results he wanted. As of right now, he has 700 portraits of Riverdale residents that were taken at major neighborhood events like RiverFest and the 

Kingsbridge Riverdale Van Cortlandt Development Corp.’s block festivals. 

“Riverdale to me is a community of four or five different subgroups, and I don’t feel like there’s animosity, but they don’t really connect,” Adler said. “All these groups seem to stay within their own subcultures … and this was a way I felt I was trying to show … diversity in Riverdale.”

At the time, Adler set up a booth at these events, trying his best to get some facetime with each person who wanted their picture taken.

“I do what I can to connect with them,” he said. “I tell silly jokes, I ask them about their day, their life, and try to get them out of the fact that they’re actually being photographed.”

Despite the project’s hiatus, Adler continues to share it with the community by posting photos on a Facebook group with a similar name, “One Thousand Faces of Riverdale.”

The project also spent some time on display at The Riverdale Y in 2015, but Adler hopes that when “1,000 Faces” is finally completed one day, people will be able to see all of their neighbor’s faces on display at a gallery.

“It’s a much different experience than seeing them in print or on screen,” he said.

Many projects

These days, Adler divides his time between various projects that includes headshots for corporations, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, while also teaching at the Riverdale Community Center when he’s able to. Well, and any other job he can get.

His most notable endeavor recently has been photographing food for UberEats, an app owned by ride-hailing app Uber, that allows people to get food deliveries from local chains and restaurants.

Adler’s process for this is simple. He’s assigned a restaurant that prepares several different dishes for him to photograph. From there, it’s his job to find the best angles and represent the food in the most flattering light.

“That’s been really fun because food doesn’t blink, it doesn’t get annoyed with you,” Adler said. “It’s been a whole new challenge doing that, but I enjoy it a lot.”

Since the rise of iPhones, the invention of Craigslist, and the decline of major companies’ photography budgets, Adler doesn’t deny the challenges that come with pursuing a freelance photography career these days. His main focus in pursuing a steady income is to keep giving people a reason to keep hiring him when they do so.

“Even when I’m almost packed up, it’s like, ‘Did I miss something?’” Adler said. 

“‘Is there something else I can do to make this that much more special?’”

There are also three goals Adler keeps in mind with every assignment.

“I give my clients what they ask for, what they want, and what they didn’t know they wanted,” he said.

As he reflects on his career, Adler’s biggest takeaway has been the “opportunity to met lots of people” and to live life on his own terms. It also doesn’t hurt to have a day job that keeps him on his toes.

“Every day is different,” Adler said. “And that’s why I love what I do. There’s no real routine in it.”

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