"Out of Many -- Stories of Migration" is a series of exhibits, events and conversations centering around the work of five photographers working out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The project features the faces and experiences of multiple generations of migrants and immigrants in America, and their descendants. With original, contemporary photography and essays, "Out of Many" uses Pittsburgh’s story as a lens through which to examine the broader American immigration and migration experience.
The project highlights the photography of Brian Cohen, Scott Goldsmith, Nate Guidry, Lynn Johnson and Annie O’Neill. A book of the photography, designed by Brett Yasko, which features essays by Public Radio journalists Erika Beras and Reid Frazier, came out in January 2018. Working with the premise that “we all come from somewhere,” the group explores the central role that immigration and migration have played, and continue to play, in the formation of our identity and culture, and in sustaining our economy -- and in so doing, aims to create a space for civil, constructive conversation about belonging and cultural heritage today.
Photographs and essays from the exhibition appear at the Exchange Gallery and the Public Library in Bloomsburg and at the McBride Memorial Library in Berwick; click on the names of the venues for their Web sites and open hours. The show runs October 12th through November 20th, 2020.
America is bound together by the idea that, whether in our own lifetime or that of our ancestors, we have all come from somewhere. Perhaps our family history here begins with distant generations who came to this country to escape poverty, unemployment, war, or persecution. We may have pictures in our family albums of people from faraway places, dressed in odd clothes, but whose faces look uncannily familiar to us. We may be the child or grandchild of someone who spoke halting English, with a strange accent, and who struggled to make a better life for their family. Or we may have come ourselves to this land of opportunity and freedom, of English muffins and nachos (American inventions, both), of French fries and Disney, of Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
This exhibition, and the book and project of which it is a part, is about migration, about the process of moving – or being moved – to a new place. In its most romantic formulation, to come to America is an expression of hope, a leap of faith. The journey can be laced with uncertainty, sometimes a last resort, maybe only the best of many bad choices – but always holding out the promise of better things to come. Most distant in time was the journey of the First Peoples, around 15,000 years ago, across the land bridge to what would later be known as America. In its darkest iteration, coming to America was not in any way a choice; rather, it was an abduction, a forced mass-migration that led to the enslavement of entire generations. We are not simply a nation of immigrants – to immigrate suggests agency – but we have all come from somewhere else.
Migration today – whether we mean migrants, immigrants, or refugees – has become one of the most divisive aspects of our contemporary discourse. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that it continues to divide us; for the arguments both for and against the newcomer today echo throughout our history. A closer look at a timeline of our immigration laws show how the entrance into the country has widened and narrowed since its beginning. Not all were welcomed, let alone considered equal. A century ago, Irish and Italian immigrants were characterized as criminals; today we are told that Mexicans are rapists. But choosing to learn each other’s stories offers us a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves.
Rather than looking at migrants as groups of faceless, nameless stereotypes, "Out of Many" gives us individual stories: Nate Guidry’s photo-essay presents a Mexican single father of two young girls, his struggles and triumphs as genuine and as mundane as those of the next person; writer Reid Frazier’s vignette of a woman from Congo shows us a young mother who finds herself learning English, and washing dishes, in Pittsburgh’s West End.
The journeys described in this project involve movements of people to and within America, and from across the globe, reflecting the broader American story through the lens of Pittsburgh’s experience. Erika Beras’s oral histories of the 20th century Great Migration provide a difficult, but important context of African-Americans’ search for a less segregated environment within their own country. The oral histories recounted in her essay weave together seemingly trivial detail with deeply disturbing accounts of life growing up African-American in the middle of the 20th century, and make clear how moving away does not always resolve those challenges.
Some stories are set in the most immediate present. Photographer Scott Goldsmith met Bhutanese refugees airside, as they landed at Pittsburgh International Airport, documenting their very first moments in America. In contrast, Brian Cohen’s photographs of social and ethnic clubs, houses of worship, groceries, and mutual-benefit societies, reveal histories physically embedded in brick and stone. The buildings present a broad sweep of the communities that settled over the past century or so, establishing themselves as residents, millions of threads in our social fabric. These structures bear witness to a continuous social churning: we may feel that our presence here is a constant, that it is only other people who are new. The buildings suggest otherwise.
As migrants, we bring with us different names, foods, and customs. We may look different from our new neighbors. We may wear different clothes, speak different languages, and worship different gods – or none at all. We will elicit curiosity, and fear. We will be embraced by some, and rejected by others. But our paths are interwoven: each individual’s journey becomes a part of the culture we share.
And we make new friends: Annie O’Neill brings together old and new immigrants, encouraging them to share their stories with each other, and with us. In her double portraits, each photograph depicts one person who has been here for more than twenty-five years, and one who has arrived within the past year. They have never met before; they could hardly be more different, but there is a chemistry. They have become instantly connected. Yet these are not simply charming portraits of the coming together of strangers (though they are that, too) – they are the embodiment of one of this country’s noblest ideals, encoded by a group of people who themselves came from somewhere else, that we are all created equal.
No one is more or less American than any other, a lesson that is demon-strated so touchingly in one of Lynn Johnson’s photographs of a natural-ization ceremony – a record of the very moment of becoming officially American. They look like they could have come from anywhere: six people, lined up behind a desk, right hands raised, swearing the oath of allegiance. (A seventh – we can see his arm – stands just outside of the frame. Other raised hands are visible around the room.) On the desk in front of the group lies an array of papers, and a pamphlet titled “Facts For Citizens.” At their center, a man in an ill-fitting suit holds his hand high, as if to ask a question; his gesture is both eager and earnest, a poignant reminder of how much there is to learn when one arrives in a new country, and how much it means to become an American citizen. Johnson catches up with these newly minted citizens at home, as they embark on the process of becoming American, culturally.
E Pluribus Unum — “Out of Many, One” — has informed the identity of this country since its inception. We have all come from somewhere. We have come alone, or with our families. We have come because we want to, and because we have no other choice. We have lived here for generations, and we have just arrived. This is a project about us, about the stranger in all of us. What we see and read on the pages that follow offers a glimpse of our collective story. It is the hope of the team that sharing this will encourage a sense of empathy among us, an appeal to what Lincoln described as “the better angels of our nature.”
– Brian Cohen
Refugee Day, Market Square, Pittsburgh
Wednesday, June 21st, 2017
One of eleven new U.S. citizens is given an American flag during a naturalization ceremony in downtown Pittsburgh.
After she was given the flag, she received her certificate of citizenship.
The event took place in Market Square amid the aroma of foods from myriad countries.
Scott Goldsmith photo
Family from Libya: Zizo, Zayd and Khalid Azzouz and Dua Zeglam
Dua and Khalid are professionals and have lived in the U.S. since 2012. The process of becoming a citizen was long and expensive. Originally, they settled in Ohio, but they now live in Morgantown, West Virginia. “It’s a relief to have another home. We feel welcome here,” said Dua.
Lynn Johnson photo
Michael Schilling was born in Australia. He arrived in the U.S. in 2008.
Frederick Douglas was born in Saint Kitts and Nevis. He arrived in the U.S. in 1977.
Both are engineers.
Frederick went to Lehigh University for graduate school. He then came to Pittsburgh to work for U.S. Steel as a research engineer. He currently has his own company with eighteen employees.
Michael was asked by an engineering director if he would consider relocating to America. Michael asked if the move could be to Europe instead. The director said again, “Do you want to move to America?” Michael says it all worked out for the best in the end. He feels there is a lot of support and networks in the U.S. by and for other immigrants that one would not get in other countries.
Frederick: “I think the reason why America is such a dynamic country is the mix of people. People come from all over the world. They bring their talents, their unique perspective on life. And it’s this mix that is the renewing strength of America. And I think that this is what has made America great . . . because people come here with a passion to create, to make life better for themselves and in so doing the entire society is lifted up.”
Michael: “The one reason that I would like to stay and very much contribute to the American society, is to is to make a bit of a difference and . . . contribute something, especially given that I have an engineering background. I would like to do something good. I would like to do something great actually.
“This place [America] allows it — even with the chaos and confusion — I don’t think I could be doing what I am doing now anywhere else in the world.”
Annie O'Neill photo
Jose Luis Ibarra is a humble man of modest means whose singular focus is providing for his two daughters. “I only want what’s best for my babies,” he says. He graciously welcomed the photographer to document his sacrifices as well as the tender-hearted moments he shares with his girls, Brianne and Emma, ages seven and nine.
Nate Guidry photo
“Presented here is a small selection of photographs of buildings used by migrant and immigrant communities in southwestern Pennsylvania over the past century or so. Some of these buildings retain their original function, others have long been discarded. Some were purpose-built, others repurposed. There are old buildings, and new; some serve communities just arrived, others have been gathering places for generations.
“Individually, each building represents in part a community’s effort to assert its adopted American identity, while retaining its particular sense of self, be it racial, religious, ethnic, or otherwise. They run the gamut, from community centers, to houses of worship, grocery stores, social clubs, and mutual-aid societies.
“The buildings are the products of people who came to America under a variety of circumstances. Some were fleeing oppression and privation; others came to escape war or to seek opportunity. Some came willingly; others not. Some found freedom and riches. Most faced discrimination and prejudice. Collectively, they form a mosaic: step forward, and you see just one building, one community, one small colorful, beautiful piece of stone; step back, and you see the bigger picture, a country comprised of many peoples, striving to achieve their dreams of freedom and prosperity in the land that is now their home.”
Buildings shown here include Daree Salam African Foods, Pittsburgh; Slovak American Citizens Social Club, Braddock Hills; American Serbian Club, Pittsburgh; Olympic Banquet Hall, Turtle Creek; Groceria Italiana, Pittsburgh; Sankofa Village, Pittsburgh; Polish Corporation, East Vandergrift; Torath Chaim Synagogue, Pittsburgh; American Indian Center, Pittsburgh; Salem Ukrainian Club, New Alexandria; Croatian Home, Farrell; and Evalgelische Imanuel’s Kirche, Pittsburgh.
Brian Cohen, photographer
"Out of Many" at the McBride Memorial Library, Berwick
"Out of Many" at the Exchange Gallery, Bloomsburg
"Out of Many" at the Bloomsburg Public Library
We all come from somewhere.
The project from which these photographs are taken is about the process of moving – or being moved – to a new place. While migration today has become one of the most divisive elements of our contemporary discourse, the arguments both for and against the newcomer – whether we mean migrants, immigrants, or refugees – echo throughout our history. A closer look at a timeline of our immigration laws show how the entrance into the country has widened and narrowed since its beginning. Not all were welcomed, let alone considered equal. A century ago, Irish and Italian immigrants were characterized as criminals, as we are often told is the case for immigrants today.
America is bound together by the idea that, whether in our own lifetime or that of our ancestors, we have all come from somewhere. As migrants, we bring with us different names, foods, and customs. We may look different from our neighbors. We may wear different clothes, speak different languages, and worship different gods – or none at all. We may elicit curiosity, and fear. But choosing to learn each other’s stories offers us a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves.
Rather than looking at migrants as faceless, nameless stereotypes, this project gives us individual stories. Our paths are interwoven: each person’s journey becomes a part of the culture we share.
Though the project is expansive, it is not possible to be all-encompassing. All around the country, the shaping of our cities and culture continues to unfold. Every story of immigration has its own set of circumstances and affects each area of the country in different ways. Our hope is that this project will create space for civil discussion that can lead to responsible actions. E Pluribus Unum – “Out of Many, One” – has informed the identity of this country since its inception. This is a project about us, about the stranger in all of us; it offers a glimpse of our collective story. It is the hope of the team that sharing this will encourage a sense of empathy among us, an appeal to what Abraham Lincoln described as “the better angels of our nature.”
Brian Cohen and Laura Domencic
Curators, “Out of Many – Stories of Migration”
A graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, England, Brian is an editorial and documentary photographer living in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he directs The Documentary Works. His work has appeared in The Guardian and The New York Times and on wired.com. He works for a variety of clients, including the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Carnegie Mellon University, and Phipps Conservatory.
As founder The Documentary Works, Brian collaborates with fellow photographers to document issues of social and environmental justice. For more about the Documentary Works, click here.
Chinese New Year at Murray Avenue Kosher, Pittsburgh
Brian Cohen photo
“My first thoughts concerned the breadth and depth of the issues affecting immigrants and refugees. After some consideration, I decided to follow immigrants from their very first moments in the U.S. I coordinated with Jaime Turek, Senior Reception & Placement Program Coordinator at the Northern Area Multi-Service Center (NAMS), to meet a family of three refugees from Bhutan as they entered the U.S. at Pittsburgh International Airport. I observed many firsts, including riding in a car, turning on an electric light, and riding a bus. It gave me the opportunity to look at the many struggles and obstacles – things that most of us take for granted in daily life. NAMS works with state-funded grants (Refugee Social Services, Targeted Assistance Grants), providing services in areas of employment, education, case management, health, and financial support to newly arrived refugees for up to five years.”
Scott won the Hearst College Photographer of the Year Competition while at Indiana University, Bloomington. After seven years at the Louisville Courier-Journal, he moved to Pittsburgh, Pa. He has photographed for a wide variety of publications including National Geographic, LIFE, TIME, Fortune, People, Sports Illustrated, Politico, Rolling Stone, and US News & World Report. His work has taken him to the jungles of Costa Rica, the swamps of Jamaica, the slums of Haiti, caves, and deserts, and on several rides on Air Force One with the President. Scott has won over one hundred awards for his work, including Addys, Golden Quills, and Pictures of the Year, and from Communication Arts and the National Academy of Sciences.
English proficiency test, Pittsburgh
Scott Goldsmith photo
Nate Guidry has worked as a photographer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for almost 25 years. He previously worked at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans and The Detroit News, covering news, sports, and feature photography. In his spare time, Guidry enjoys shooting jazz and world music, and he is working on a book about some of his favorite musicians.
Brianna and Emma Ibarra Romano with their father, Jose Luis Ibarra
Nate Guidry photo
"Pittsburgh considers itself a community, but there are those among us who began life on other shores. We can’t truly be a Sanctuary City until we see each other, until we know each other. These images, beginning with a naturalization ceremony and continuing with portraits of new citizens, are an effort to do so.”
Voted National Geographic’s Photographers’ Photographer for 2015 and awarded a National Geographic fellowship, Lynn is known for shooting elusive subjects – language, disease, rape, water – and for asking tough questions. Her thesis as a Knight Fellow at Ohio University probed hate crimes; at the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, she challenges Master’s students to push past their own comfort levels. Dedicated to exploring the far reaches of the human condition, she spends perhaps two months a year at home in Pittsburgh, packing that camera bag over and over.
Naturalization ceremony, Pittsburgh
Lynn Johnson photo
“How does it feel to be the other? This is an experiment: Bring two strangers together who have emigrated to the United States. One of the émigrés has been here significantly longer than the other. They have something in common – just like we all have something in common. In one pair, both are engineers; in another, both speak French; others came to the U.S. for love. Each as the other.”
Born in 1966 in Wading River, New York, Annie O’Neill received a fiery baptism into professional journalism at The Detroit News, where she worked for two years before joining the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as a staff photographer in 1995. Her accomplishments in documenting news and other human activity have been recognized by the National Press Photographers Association, Golden Quills, and Society of Newspaper Design. She has been named Pittsburgh Photographer of the Year three times and Pennsylvania Photographer of the Year twice. She is the author of Unquiet Ruin - a Photographic Excavation and is working on her second book, The Gift of Work. Annie left the world of newspapers to be an independent photographer in 2008. Her clients include the Heinz Endowments, Cleveland Clinic, LISC, Chatham University, University of Pittsburgh, Community College of Allegheny County, and UPMC.
Gertrud Wunder was born in East Prussia, Germany.
She arrived in the U.S. in 1952.
Meryembibi Mammedova was born in Turkmenistan.
She arrived in the U.S. in 2005.
Both come from countries that are part of the former U.S.S.R.
Annie O'Neill photo
Laura Domencic, curator
Laura Domencic is an independent artist, curator, writer, and educator. As the former director of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, she developed many exhibitions, education programs, and publications. Working with artists, community organizations, and universities, she consults on strategic planning and fundraising in addition to organizing exhibits. She also directs Arts France, Saint Francis University’s artist residency program in Ambialet, France. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, she received her MFA from the Lesley University College of Art & Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Aftermath, detail, 2018