‘It’s more relevant than ever’ – photo exhibition puts focus on immigration

At this years Photoville in Brooklyn, themes of immigration and multiculturalism run through much of the work on show

In the coming weeks, a set of shipping containers will be installed at Brooklyn Bridge Plaza in Dumbo – a clear sign that Photoville Brooklyn is under way. The outdoor photo exhibition, now in its seventh year, opens on 13 September with more than 90 photography exhibitions in shipping containers and beyond, ranging from LGBT themes to climate change and immigration issues.

“Whether you’re a direct descendant of an immigrant or an immigrant yourself, in the current climate, socially and politically, it’s more relevant than ever,” said Laura Roumanos, co-curator of Photoville Brooklyn.

Among the immigration-themed exhibits will be a showcase of the Getty Images photographer John Moore, who has been documenting the US-Mexico border for the past 10 years.

“We have an image of a boy in a cage watching TV with guard looking on – I thought John took it a few months ago, but it was taken in 2014,” said Roumanos. “It shows this is not something that just popped up over the past two years, it’s an ongoing issue and has been a problem for many years.”

Moore’s series Undocumented follows the lives of undocumented immigrants from Central America and Mexico to the US border, taking portraits of border control officers, immigrants, gang members and inmates in detention centers.

“I’ve taken a broad approach, focusing on asylum seekers fleeing violence, migrants searching for economic opportunity, and the federal government’s response to pursue, detain, and deport them,” said Moore in a statement. “Throughout, I have tried to humanize this story.”

In June, Moore traveled to the border to document immigrant crossings under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, which includes an unforgettable picture of a crying two-year-old Honduran girl, which was widely circulated after appearing on the cover of Time magazine in July.

That one photo is at the crux of the photo festival’s theme. “Why people were up in arms about what was going on at the Mexican border was because of the photo that John took,” said Roumanos. “Photography is underrated, whether it’s editorial or art; it’s a way to tell our story, to remember who we are.”

Photoville
Photoville in 2017. Photograph: Photoville

The immigration theme continues in The Wall, a series by the New York photographer Griselda San Martin, who has photographed separated families at Friendship Park, a wall between San Diego and Tijuana with jail-like bars that can be spoken through.

For the series, she photographed a Mexican couple, Alejandra Vallejo and Daniel Armendariz, who meet at the border every weekend, as Armendariz can’t leave the US because he is on probation, while Alejandra doesn’t have the documents to legally cross the border. In another shot, an elderly man named José Márquez has met his 33-year-old daughter and grandson every month at the border wall for the past 14 years, since Márquez was deported.

“By calling attention to the human interactions at Friendship Park, I attempt to neutralize what this wall was built to create: separation,” said San Martin in a statement. “My goal is to transform the discourse of border security into a conversation about immigrant visibility, addressing audiences on both sides of the wall by challenging popular assumptions, or by reminding them that they are seen, heard and that they matter.”

The immigration theme continues in As-Salaam-Alaikum, America, which depicts the Muslim community living in the US taken by the National Geographic photographers Lynsey Addario and Wayne Lawrence, who traveled from New York to Los Angeles to look into the lives of Muslims across the country. It’s what Addario has called “capturing a more intimate, nuanced view of Muslims in America, while focusing on their vast racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity”.

One photo shows a Michigan family holding a funeral for an Iraqi security operative who was killed in Mosul in a bombing, while another shows a group of 20,000 Muslims in a morning prayer in a sports stadium in Anaheim. In another photo, a Muslim man in Houston is dressed up as an Elvis impersonator since first learning of the rock icon in the 1960s while growing up in Pakistan.

Other stories are showcased in Glasshouse of Immigrants, an installation by the New York photographer Jill Enfield. Portraits of immigrants living in the US grace the glass-paneled walls of a glasshouse, which is meant to echo the fragility of migration. “They portray the bravery it takes to pick up and leave one’s homeland no matter what period of time,” says Enfield in a statement. “The undertaking of immigration remains filled with challenges.”

Garet
Garet Smit photographs participants at the 100th annual Memorial Day Parade on Staten Island. Photograph: Gareth Smit For The New York Times

Another series on view, entitled Voyage à Dakar the Dutch photographer Judith Quax and her Dutch-Senegalese son Noah travel by land in the opposite migratory flow from Amsterdam to Dakar, while Safe Home, a series by the New York photographer Cengiz, shows the barren landscapes of war-torn Iraq, like collapsed bridges and crumbling villages, to show a country in disrepair.

Among some of the other exhibits, a series entitled 64,000 looks at the overdose crisis while Her Take: (Re)Thinking Masculinity is a series by the women’s photo collective called VII, and Life After Prison is a photo series by Sara Bennett following 17 formerly incarcerated women getting their lives back on track. North Shore is a series which looks at the culture wars taking place on Staten Island by Gareth Smit.

“For these photos, it’s not just about the image, but when it was taken and what conditions it was taken under,” said Roumanos. “We really underestimate the power of the photographer or the photojournalist.”

The exhibition does have indoor components and partner exhibitions, but a public art exhibit is a way to reach more people. “We have a gallery, but it’s about presenting a platform to show photography to a large group of people, a critical mass,” said Roumanos.

Despite the ubiquity of photos on social media – more than 95m photos are posted on Instagram every day – Roumanos notes this exhibit is a way to celebrate photography offline. Last year, they drew upwards of 90,000 visitors.

“When we started seven years ago, people were groaning and didn’t want to come out to Brooklyn, now we have people pounding on the door wanting to be here,” she said.

  • Photoville takes place at the Brooklyn Bridge Park from 13-23 September

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