Becoming NY: Photographs by Paul Stetzer
"One day three years ago one of the settlement houses in New York asked me to make a library of images of all their programs, one of which was an English as a Second Language class for adults. I was delighted to behold a dazzling array of people coming from a score of countries, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, educated and not. "Diversity" brought to life! In addition, the ESL participants were all in the process of creating new lives for themselves in a new country, a new city. This resonated strongly with me. About seven years ago I recreated my life by leaving a city and community where I had lived for 50 years, by changing careers, by adding to my family.
So, I began to photograph. In one ESL class the first year, and in two the second and third years. At first I used a plain backdrop. Then I invited people to select places in New York City - all boroughs - that are important to them. We would travel to these places and photograph there. So, Maria from Spain had her most memorable day divided between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and we went to the Brooklyn Bridge. And Jorge, from Mexico, plays soccer on Randall's Island twice a week.
In the landscapes of the faces lie the diversity and courage of people crafting new lives in this city, people from all over the world, people who are changing, and being changed by, New York City. These images celebrate our diversity, and I hope they show what we have in common."
Paul Stetzer, 2004
These images are open, graceful and inspiring. They document what seems to always be true about the city of New York: its history of immigration, the faces that are always changing, cultures that continue to change the social landscape of this unique city. Paul has made strikingly candid images of the people he has met via English-as-a-Second-language classes. His images capture the wonder of New York through the experiences of those working to find their place in a new country. They have with in them a sense of vibrancy, anticipation and a palpable sense of culture.
We become witnesses to that wonder. Perhaps, reawakening our own amazement towards the rich cultural heritage that makes our city the rich place that it is.
To see more of Paul's photos, check out his web site at http://paulstetzer.smugmug.com