This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for EDGE Magazine that never made it into the paper or onto the website. Normally I'd let it go, but I think this project is really great and Becky Field was amazing to talk to. It is too late at this point to see the show at the library, but her book is still for sale at RiverRun, Gibson's in Concord and online. Proceeds benefit organizations working to support the refugee community. The Levenson Room in the Portsmouth Public Library spent October with walls lined in photos of a little known New Hampshire community. The diverse population depicted in these prints is far from what is expected from a predominantly white state, but the smiles and bright eyes of children, mothers, doctors and brides are entirely familiar. Different Roots, Common Dreams perfectly captures those human moments any New Hampshire resident can relate to.
Different Roots, Common Dreams is a culmination of years of work from photographer Becky Field. For the past two years Peter E. Randall Publishing and Field worked to create a book of her images supplemented by story essays from a few of the faces pictured. A New Hampshire artist working in close contact with immigrant families, Field attends weddings, prayer meetings and family dinners, using her camera as a passport to a unique perspective on a new population. “[Everyone is] very cooperative and helpful,” says Field, “many are exuberant at the idea of getting their photos taken.” The photos show this clearly; one shows a grinning boy leaping in front of the camera. The types of photos are familiar, from wedding shots to senior class portraits. The work isn’t detached or voyeuristic; Field is more welcome part of the community than objective documentarian.
The desire to photograph of life events is just one commonality between the immigrant and “receiving community” (Field’s term for New Hampshire natives). Field found one Hindu ceremony strikingly similar to a Christian communion. “These amazing parallels I see,” Field explains, “[the receiving community can] experience through my lens the depth of thinking that is so similar to ours.”
The project was actually inspired by derogatory graffiti glimpsed on immigrant homes in Concord. “I thought it was a totally inappropriate way to treat new American neighbors,” explains Field. A beacon of relentless positivity, the artist believes the two communities avoid interaction due to a lack of understanding. She aims to highlight elements of immigrant life the receiving community can relate to. She makes it clear that her project has done as much or more for her than for her new neighbors. “I don’t think I was thinking [as deeply] before this project,” she explains, “[it’s] helping me understand my own culture.”
The Portsmouth Public Library was “thrilled” to discover Field wanted them to show her work. “It’s a perfect fit,” states Nicole Cloutier of Special Collections, “We are often called upon to assist new residents with aspects of getting settled and finding their way in the community.” Field’s honest, universal images work within the goal of helping the refugee community. Different Roots, Common Dreams, is an apt title for a project that allows us to understand without embarrassment, inspiring us to examine our own culture through the lens of another.