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Photos in exhibition document ‘unseen America’
Photos in exhibition document ‘unseen America’May 01, 2006Matthew R. Snydermrsnyder@syr.edu
Photos by local workers who participated in unseenamerica NYS will be on display in the Panasci Lounge of Syracuse University’s Hildegarde and J. Myer Schine Student Center from May 2 – June 2. The opening reception will take place Thursday, May 4, from 6 – 8 p.m. It is free and open to the public.
“unseenamerica: photos and stories by workers” (ReganBooks; May 1, 2006) offers an intimate, honest and eye-opening look at the everyday lives of working-class men and women across the United States. Edited by Esther Cohen, the book grew from a unique photography program she created at Bread and Roses, the nonprofit cultural arm of Local ll99 of the Service Employees International Union. Over a two-year span, 350 groups — from janitors in Washington, D.C., to formerly homeless women in Gainesville, Fla. — were given point-and-shoot cameras and free lessons by professional photographers. Then, they were asked to take pictures of what they saw — favorite places, typical and special activities, neighbors and loved ones. The result is a striking collection of black-and-white images that each has a story to tell.
Unseenamerica NYS is a collaboration of the Bread & Roses Cultural Project of 1199SEIU, the New York State AFL-CIO and the Workforce Development Institute.
As Cohen observes in her introduction, the pictures showcased in “unseenamerica” are “not self-conscious or self-righteous”; they do not have an agenda. But they are revolutionary. By purely reflecting humanity, “unseenamerica” is already changing the way people see. Inspired by the publication of “unseenamerica” and the project behind it, New York Gov. George Pataki declared May 1 a day of statewide recognition for all the overlooked workers who make our lives better.