Emigration-Immigration-Migration: Five Photographic Perspectives is a civic engagement project that uses photographic imagery to document the faces and experiences of multiple generations of immigrants and their descendants.
Emigration-Immigration-Migration highlights the work of five Pittsburgh photographers—Brian Cohen, Scott Goldsmith, Nate Guidry, Lynn Johnson and Annie O’Neill—whose images serve as a lens through which to consider the broader American experience. By exploring the central role that immigration has played in the formation of American identity, in sustaining the economy, and in the enrichment of cultural diversity, the resulting images aim to create a space for civil, constructive conversation about belonging and cultural heritage today.
“Immigration is a vital part of what makes this country great. For southwestern Pennsylvania in particular, we think of all those who came to work in the steel mills and mines from all over the world,” said Chief Curator Barbara Jones. “In this way, the exhibition, which takes a contemporary viewpoint, relates to the industrial scenes in our collection that celebrate the Big Steel Era in this region.”
The Westmoreland’s exhibition—one of a series of exhibitions, events and conversations in the region—stems from a project called Out of Many: Stories of Migration by The Documentary Works, a group of professional photographers documenting social and environmental issues. Community partners for the project include the American Jewish Museum, City of Asylum, Repair the World and the Union Project. Additionally, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Nexus: Becoming Migrant series, which explores the impacts migration has on those who move, the environments they leave, and the places to which they come, ties well to this project and the exhibition at The Westmoreland. The Carnegie Nexus series is made up of multiple events hosted at various venues in Pittsburgh during the month of April, including an event on April 12 at the Carnegie Museum of Art featuring a discussion with Brian Cohen, Founder of The Documentary Works, about the Out of Many project.
“The power of groups like The Documentary Works is that they can approach complex topics from multiple perspectives,” said co-curator Laura Domencic. “This project reveals the vulnerable and celebratory moments of individuals and families making a new home in an unfamiliar place.”
Domencic and co-curator Brian Cohen sought to add to the conversation around emigration (leaving one’s homeland), immigration (coming to a new country) and migration (the process of moving), and how each one makes this country what it is.
“This project is based on the simple premise that we have all come from somewhere, whether in our own lifetimes or that of our ancestors. Our aim is to open up a friendly space within which we can all have a conversation about American migration stories,” said Cohen, who, in addition to serving as co-curator, has his photography featured in the exhibition.
“We have had our eyes on the work of these excellent photographers, who work as a group on selected themes, for several years,” said The Richard M. Scaife Director/CEO Judith H. O’Toole. “This topic seemed very timely and in line with one of our strategic goals of uniting the human experience by being responsive to current issues and supporting diversity in its many forms.”
The exhibition catalog (available for purchase in the Museum Shop and online) features essays by two Public Radio journalists. Erika Beras presents interviews with African American Pittsburgh residents who found their way to the city during the Great Migration over fifty years ago, providing a look into growing up in the segregated South, and the changes they experienced in moving north. Reid Frazier’s essay uses an historical context to reveal the hopes, dreams, and challenges of immigrants in a new country where their welcome is tempered by the fears and prejudices they encounter.
Generous support for Out of Many—Stories of Migration was provided by Opportunity Fund; Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation; Hillman Foundation; The Heinz Endowments; The Fisher Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation; and The Pittsburgh Foundation.
Funding for Emigration-Immigration-Migration has been generously provided by the Hillman Exhibition Fund of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art.
On April 12, Brian Cohen will be at the Carnegie Museum of Art for a presentation that sheds light on Pittsburgh’s immigration stories. Carnegie Nexus, in partnership with The Documentary Works, hosts Out of Many: Stories of Migration, which includes a chance for guests to upload their own immigration stories to an interactive digital map.