Current Exhibition: Where the Light Travels
Gallery & Learning Lab Open to the public Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm
Where the Light Travels, Jana McBeath Open from 9-5, M-Sat. Show closes June 10th, 2021
Where The Light Travels: Portraits of San Diego Refugee Students
Nearly 71 million people have been displaced from their homes due to war, violence or persecution - when those people cross international borders, they are called refugees. This project consists of portraits of students from the San Diego Refugee Tutoring program, an organization whose mission is to achieve social justice through educational access for refugee students in eastern City Heights. Each student in this exhibition is the face of a wider story - the story of their journey, family, resilience, terrors, defiance, joy. I photographed these young students, aged from kindergarten to the final years of high school, using a large format film camera, with the urban landscaping of their school as the backdrop.
It was important to me that the process of photographing the students was collaborative, in an attempt to steer away from the often ‘othering’ gaze in images of refugees. At the start of each portrait we would talk about an area of the school they liked and might want to be photographed in. We would then go through the method of shooting with the large format camera, with students trying the process for themselves if they wished. They would hold props if they wanted to, whilst posing was informal and determined by their comfort and how they wanted to be seen.
There has been a historical tendency when photographing refugees to represent them within the limiting narrative of a hard to comprehend past and the manifest hardships of their life. These are valid and important perspectives, but through these portraits I also wanted to tell a wider story, a story of the inner strength, humour, connections, and the determination of these amazing young people.
The medium of large format was more commonly used during a time when photography was less accessible and less democratic. My aim with this project was to subvert that context and use this format to photograph an often overlooked and marginalized community. The time and care needed for each shot on a large format camera, with its intricate and antiquated handling, is a way to honor these incredible young people and help to bring attention to themselves and their stories.
This project was made in partnership with Outside The Lens and the San Diego Refugee Tutoring program.