When we do documentary photography, we establish a permanent bond with those we photograph and the community in which we work.
From 1981 to 1984 I worked on a photography project in New York Chinatown as part of the New York Chinatown History Project. An older, primarily male community (due to racist immigration laws, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) was being replaced by a rapidly expanding new influx of immigration of young families.
When I began this project, I was an outsider. As a documentary photographer my role was to keep my eyes open, learn as much as I could, make connections, and follow wherever they took me. Only with this foundation of connection could I move forward and communicate anything meaningful.
The connections that I made in the early 1980s have endured, compelling my return to these photographs, and have been enriched by recent oral history interviews with those I photographed, their children and relatives.
This work is particularly relevant now when, as an echo of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, our government’s policies have normalized xenophobia and racism, spreading lies and fears about immigrants. The same, racist, anti-immigrant politics that led to Exclusion are alive and well in our current, toxic times.