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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Visioneer's Gallery: Revealing The Invisible Minority

Adam Stoltman’s new exhibition focuses on bringing an under-recognized group of Americans to the awareness of policy makers who can make a difference in their lives

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Adam Stoltman's exhibition on display in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

"As Americans, we get jaded and forget what it means to live in this country. When I see the earnestness with which new immigrants in this country believe in the American dream, I realize how much we take for granted." These words from photographer Adam Stoltman strike a deep chord in me as I relive my personal history of arriving in this country more than 50 years ago with an American dream that I've been very lucky to realize. Stoltman's photo-documentary show "Capturing Culture: Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Community in American Culture and Society" opened in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., last month. It's a unique photo-political platform through which Stoltman humanizes this swath of America's "invisible minority" and brings their portraits face to face with policy makers who direct health care and other key areas that affect these communities around the U.S.

Stoltman's photography journey led him across 14 immigrant communities around the country. As part of the Health Through Action (HTA) initiative, a program that was designed to bolster community approaches to improving the health of vulnerable Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander children and families by strengthening community-based organizations, Stoltman's photo-documentary focused on community building, which helped to build capacity with regards to public health across 18 different organizations that are the vital links to services and health care for immigrant communities around the U.S. Explains Stoltman, "I was asked to spend time documenting and producing images that reflect the human face of some of the populations served by the various grantee organizations." With decades of experience behind him, not only as a photographer, but also as an editor at The New York Times, Stoltman embarked on this project to reflect "a growing reality of America. More than ever our nation is a melting pot of various communities, each bringing cultural strengths and vibrancy to the American tapestry, yet also struggling to maintain traditional and cultural roots in a dynamic sea of diversity and modernity."

Through his interaction with these communities, Stoltman noticed one theme that connected them all—their desire to become visible in America, as they referred to themselves as an "invisible minority." Inspired to give these communities a visibility and voice on a national platform, Stoltman set out to create portraits that transformed their emotional and cultural experiences into powerful imagery. "Visibility is really important," he says. "This is what as city dwellers we do not understand. America is really changing demographically and its diverse faces must become visible."

Stoltman worked with a diverse Asian immigrant community that included South Asians, Samoans, Cambodians, Hmong and Vietnamese, among several others. "What's wonderful about the process through which we created the images was that it was a fluid dialogue with the communities themselves," he says. "The amount of time I had [14 months] was great because as a photographer one hardly gets a chance to layer the work in an interesting way. I took pictures as they defined what was important to them. It's rare that you get the opportunity to work that way."


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