Moving 5 Photographers Capture 'Emigration-Immigration-Migration'

By Thomas, M. | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 11, 2018 | Go to article overview

Moving 5 Photographers Capture 'Emigration-Immigration-Migration'


Thomas, M., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


The stories stream off the walls at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensbur,g and soon you want them to become conversations.

How old are your children? Why did you come to the U.S.? What about our culture has surprised you most?

"Emigration-Immigration-Migration: Five Photographic Perspectives" offers a fresh look at a global subject that reverberates both contemporaneously and historically in our region. It's a beautifully conceived, vibrantly mounted query by five Pittsburgh photographers: Brian Cohen, Scott Goldsmith, Nate Guidry, Lynn Johnson and Annie O'Neill.

In photos taken in 2017, each takes a different approach to the titular subject, from documenting a family's arrival at the airport to photographs of social clubs, churches and other structures built a century ago.

The exhibition began as a project of The Documentary Works, which produces collaborative photo documentaries focusing on issues of social and environmental justice. Mr. Cohen, founder and director, said the project's aim was to invite a civil, constructive exchange about belonging and cultural heritage.

Mr. Goldsmith focused on members of a Bhutanese family from their 3 a.m. arrival at Pittsburgh International Airport through challenges they faced adjusting to a vastly different culture. They live in an apartment complex in Brentwood with other Bhutanese immigrants. The black-and-white imagery underscores the uncertainty and anxiety inherent in rebuilding a life, whether shopping for basics at a grocery store or waiting for a ride to a night shift meat packing job.

Ms. Johnson's subjects are more comfortably situated. A group of black-and-white images document naturalization ceremonies in Monroeville and Pittsburgh. Color portraits show new American citizens, several of whom are among those pictured at the ceremonies. The shift from the colorless institutional scenes to colorful portraits at home with family is visually and transformatively symbolic. These lives may now proceed to the full participation that comes with a secure status.

Mr. Guidry captures the soul of a tiny family in intimate color images of a Mexican father, Jose Luis Ibarra, raising his two daughters as a single parent. The affection they feel for one another is palpable as Mr. Ibarra prepares the children, ages 7 and 9, for school, or as they sit on the couch watching television, the family's pet rabbits nestled among them. The line between viewer and "other" dissolves within the normalcy of their experiences.

"I only want what's best for my babies," Mr. Ibarra told Mr. Guidry.

Ms. O'Neill, meanwhile, pairs a variety of individuals in large-format color photographs bereft of background narratives. Wall labels include where they are from, when they arrived here, what the situation was in their country of origin and a brief quote from each. They were photographed together because they had something in common, but rather than usual associations like gender or race these commonalities are less easily identifiable, such as being an engineer or speaking French. Ms. O'Neill plays with expectations and by doing so subtly suggests that categorization may be arbitrary and at times divisive. …

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