Concord photographer Rebecca Field’s photo essay detailing New Hampshire’s diversity began two years ago in response to a hateful act.
“The hate was not mine. It was someone else’s — someone who wrote graffiti on the side of some refugee homes in Concord,” Field said during an interview at the Bridge Cafe in Manchester last week. (The interview, coincidentally, occurred just a day before the news broke that Raymond Stevens, a Concord tattoo artist, was arrested and charged with the crime.)
When it happened, Field was infuriated.
“I thought, this is not the way to treat people. I feel very strongly that we should treat people fairly and get to know them,” she said.
And then, the idea for this photography project popped into her head. Field, who was working toward her certificate in photography from the New Hampshire Institute of Art, decided she’d create a photo essay on cultural, ethnic and religious diversity in the state.
“I all of a sudden had this feeling that I finally figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up. It was just this sensation of being totally right on track. I thought, ‘This is something I was meant to do,’” Field said. She calls the project “We Are Different: We Are One.”
“The whole idea is that while we all have major differences in our culture, we all have some very deep similarities. We all want to have children who grow up safely. We all want to support our families. We all want to learn new skills that help us go on with life. And we all want to have homes where we feel safe and where we are free to live as we please,” Field said.
She’s since taken more than 44,000 photos of about 500 people from 44 different countries. Field met most of her subjects through networking; she had already done some volunteer work with refugee support organizations. ESL classes, international festivals and New American groups have been encouraging and helpful, she said.
This year, she’s the opening speaker for the 2013-2014 “Wings of Knowledge” lecture series at the New Hampshire Technical Institute. She presents “Cultural and Ethnic Diversity in the Granite State: View through a Lens” on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m., in the Library Living Room.
Honore Murenzi, who came to New Hampshire from Rwanda/Congo and is now the executive director of New American Africans, feels her work helps show the new faces of New Hampshire.
“It’s great to see that New Hampshire is becoming a diverse community. … In this work, she educates the larger community about the new faces of New Hampshire,” Murenzi said.
Murenzi is also an active member of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition. Field’s work, he said, visualizes this idea.
Field says she’s put more effort into this than any paying job, which is no small feat; she was on the graduate faculty in natural resources at the University of Massachusetts and was a wildlife research ecologist with the U.S. Department of Interior for 20 years. She was then the director of communications for the American Red Cross in New Hampshire. Yet, she said, nothing she’d ever done before had so much meaning.
Fields’ favorite images are accompanied by colorful stories of how they came to be. One of the first events she attended was a day-long Hindu hair-cutting ceremony. A woman from the ESL class invited her to her home.
“They have a tradition where they don’t cut the hair until a boy is 3. I was in 10th avenue, and it was fabulous,” Field said. “It was so rich in colors. … I felt like all of Concord was going by this apartment, and nobody in the world except me and the people there knew that this rich, Hindu Bhutanese event was going on inside.”
Field said the New American population in New Hampshire is largely invisible.
“For instance, yesterday, I went to a celebration of Dasara, which is a religious Hindu celebration in the Bhutanese community where they honor their older relatives. There’s food, dancing and music and the whole community who goes out for it. … This was going on in Concord yesterday behind a gas station.”