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January 27. 2013 9:34PM

Manchester photo exhibit seeks to bridge cultural divide


Becky Field has spent more than a year photographing immigrants and refugees in New Hampshire. (COURTESY)

MANCHESTER - Photographer Becky Field says her upcoming photo exhibit of refugees and immigrants is intended to show: "We are different. We are one."

A 35-photo exhibit of Field's work with the New Americans in Manchester will open Feb. 6 and be on display through May 19 in the University of New Hampshire Manchester Library, 400 Commercial St.

There will be an opening artist's reception Feb. 6 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the library.

The exhibit photos are part of Field's final project in a two-year certificate program in photography from the New Hampshire Institute of Art.

But they have become much more, she said. They have given her an opportunity to enter the lives and cultures of her subjects, which are very different from hers. She said that has a powerful effect on the photographer. "When we see the contrast, it makes me feel richer in my own culture and background," she said.

Field has been taking the photos over the past year and will continue to do so. Initially, she drew on her contacts from working for and with organizations working with the newcomers.

That has changed, she said.

"The families are calling me," said Field, inviting her to be a part of their ceremonies and other important life events.

One of those recent calls was to photograph a Hindu funeral. That was a new idea and experience for her, but very moving. It wasn't unusual for those in attendance, she said, because those under 30 in the crowd were documenting the event on their cell phones.

But while some customs, as well as clothing and skin color, may make the newcomers seem different, Field insists they have the same goals as the rest of us - to be safe, to have an education, to be successful.

Field said an important photo book for her growing up was "The Family of Man," published in 1955, that included the entire exhibit of Edward Steichen photos that had opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

"It put the pictures together in subjects, not by culture," she said, and that is what she has sought to do with her exhibit.

While the exhibit is of photos from Manchester, of people from 19 countries, Field has also photographed the New Americans in Concord, Nashua, the Seacoast and Laconia. As the project continues, she wants to photograph them in the Upper Valley and Monadnock Region.

She said incidents of graffiti on the homes of African immigrants in Concord, where she lives, figured into her project.

"There was this obvious tension going on about New Americans in our community," she said.

But while there may be language or customs issues with respect to the New Americans, she said, "This is a wonderful strength New Hampshire has, and we should celebrate it."

Field said her work can be described as a social documentary.

"I let the pictures speak for themselves ... making the invisible visible," she said.
dvincent@unionleader.com


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