Excited art-lovers gathered around the William Benton Museum of Art on Friday, Sept. 12 to attend the opening reception of new galleries at the museum, one of which is entitled “Immigrant Eyes,” by Connecticut-based photographer Joe Standart.
“Immigrant Eyes” is currently on display both inside the museum and on the lawn outside. This gallery features 40 photos of immigrants and refugees, all taken in New Haven and New London, Connecticut. The portraits, shot with a 35mm camera and printed on large sheets of aluminum, show each subject in stunning detail.
After a brief introduction about his pieces, Standart led attendees around the outdoor exhibit for a closer look at the photos on display, sharing a bit about each person he photographed. His passion for the project and care for those featured in the portraits was evident; Standart took the time to get to know each person on a deeper level and opened a door for them to safely share their experiences.
In addition to telling the immigrants’ and refugees’ stories, Standart also discussed the long and arduous processes they faced when coming into the country. Some had faced years of questioning and investigation before being accepted as refugees, and others had made long and difficult journeys, many facing the possibility of deportation. In order to protect the identities and lives of those who are undocumented, Standart opted to omit each subject’s last name from the exhibit.
Standart emphasized the bravery of the people he photographed, discussing how they were willing to have massive photos of themselves up for all of the public to see, and could face threats from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Standart’s work has been displayed in storefront windows in New London, as well as on the New Haven Green. As public exhibits, he hopes these portraits will encourage passersby to think about the lives of immigrants and refugees and to possibly change their perspectives on immigration itself.
“The most rewarding thing for me has been to have that interface with the public,” said Standart. He described the benefits of public galleries and the broad impact they can have on people willing to stop and consider what the art represents.
Standart’s choice of putting his work on the New Haven Green added to the exhibit itself; he wanted to send the message that immigrants are, and always have been, an integral part of America. This led him to erect the photos on a piece of land that had been part of the country since its very beginning, for all of the public to see. The pictures bring people closer to the conversation on immigration, letting them know that it is a real issue which impacts the people that live around them.
“These people are real. You see stuff on the news… it’s in another part of the world, it doesn’t really touch us. But these people are neighbors,” said Standart.
This exhibit has become even more important in recent years, given the rise in xenophobia in America and the attitudes towards immigration as a whole. Because of this, Standart wants immigrants and refugees to know that they are seen and valued.
“Immigrants are so vital to our history as a nation, and the recent history of accepting these immigrants during an international crisis… we’re not doing a very good job with it,” Standart said. “So I wanted to have something that said to the immigrants that are here, ‘We value you, you’re important to us,’ and see what kind of an impact that would have.”
While the exhibit is open at UConn, students are encouraged to stop by to broaden their perspectives on immigration and how those around them are impacted by it.
“My hope is that the students would take a little time out to just think about who these people are and what their background is,” said Standart.
“Immigrant Eyes” will be available for viewing until Oct. 16. All are welcome to visit the Benton to admire Standart’s amazing work and gain insight into the lives of immigrants and refugees in America.