Story Matters

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Image & Memory

Conveying the depth of the American immigrant experience

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The concept of collective memory was first introducted by Maurice Halbwachs in his book La Mémoire collective, published in 1950—five years after he died in Buchenwald. 

By his reckoning, a society can have a collective memory, giving shape to the identity and values of the group, in addition to the memories of individuals. If this is true, then there exists a group memory that exists outside of the individual that shapes their understanding and perception of the past.     

Because the collective memory of a society is malleable, it seems important to remind ourselves of how those memories reflect our ideals and values. Within the current political discourse in the United States, the subject of immigration has become both emotional and political and seems distant from the actual history of immigration that shaped the founding of our country.    

On the one hand, we are all immigrants and one of our founding principles has been the pursuit of happiness and opportunity for everyone, whomever they are and wherever they are from. But U.S. history betrays another truth: Our borders have been open when it is convenient, even profitable, but at other times, we have been less than welcoming.

Would it be possible to create a series of images that represents this tangled collective memory but also contributes to some clarity?

American Immigrants // Ellis Island, New York
Circa 1900
American Immigrants // Art Cultural Icons
20th Century
Top right: Elie Wiesel, author (immigrated in 1955 from Romania); Mikhail Baryshnikov, dancer (immigrated in 1974 from Latvia); and Willem de Kooning, painter (immigrated in 1926 from the Netherlands).
American Immigrants // Film Cultural Icons
20th Century
Top right: Audrey Hepburn, actor (immigrated in 1951 from Belgium); Cary Grant, actor (immigrated in 1920 from England); and Sophia Loren, actor (immigrated in 1957 from Italy).

JUXtaposition A // Art Cultural Icons dominant

JUXTAPOSITION B  //  ELLIS ISLAND DOMINANT

JUXTAPOSITION C  //  FILM CULTURAL ICONS DOMINANT

JUXTAPOSITION D  //  ELLIS ISLAND DOMINANT

JUXTAPOSITION E  //  VERTICAL BARBED WIRE

JUXTAPOSITION F  //  AMERICAN FLAG

JUXTAPOSITION G  //  VERTICAL BARBED WIRE  //  AMERICAN FLAG

JUXTAPOSITION H  //  TANGLED BARBED WIRE  //  AMERICAN FLAG

JUXTAPOSITION I  //  PHOTOGRAPHED BARBED WIRE  //  AMERICAN FLAG

COMPILATION OF JUXTAPOSITION EXPLORATIONS