Susan Simone : docu-Art Photography

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Fotos del Pueblo

Artist Statement

One summer day shortly after I moved to North Carolina in 1992, I was driving with some friends from Rocky Mount to Raleigh on the two-lane road that cuts through the wide, flat fields typical of the eastern part of the state. Even though it was 7 o’clock on a Saturday night, the sun was still hot and the humidity was high. We stopped for a soda at a small crossroads store. It looked pretty much like the middle of nowhere to me.

Just as we started to walk out to head for our car, two white Chevy suburban vans drove up and about 15 or 20 Mexican field workers climbed out. They were thick with dust and sweat. Each man had on a worn baseball cap, a soiled T-shirt and a pair of old boots covered in dirt. Each also carried a paycheck in his hand. Inside, they formed a line, cashed the checks, bought sandwiches, chips and beer and filed back out to the waiting vans. This was my introduction to the local Hispanic community. It was a male society, temporary, and confined to the fields, housed in windowless metal bunk-houses, isolated, without transportation, without language, and often without rights.

In seven short years that image has undergone a radical change. While there is no shortage of hard, sun-beaten fieldwork in tobacco, sweet potatoes, and cucumbers, the face of “el pueblo Hispano” has been transformed. Now, everyday, without leaving my routine path, I encounter Hispanic workers, families, children, and teenagers in all sorts of jobs.

Sending money “home” is still a big part of every budget, but now the workers include not only men of all ages, but young girls, middle-aged women, and families “settled out” into the society at large. “Tiendas” and “taquerias” are easy to find. Salsa shows fill clubs like the Ritz in Raleigh and Miss Latina for the Atlantic region was crowned at the Carolina Theater in Durham on July 11 1999. There are soccer games, Spanish language church services, fiestas, Spanish-speaking legal services, Spanish-speaking car salesman, Spanish language radio stations, and at least two Spanish language newspapers (La Voz, La Conexion).

Fotos Del Pueblo is my personal encounter with the faces of this newest element of the South. I have created digital composite images in black and white and color from film shot using a 35 mm Nikon camera. I took these pictures over a period of one year, working with the support of an NC Arts Council Fellowship. The work is a portrait, not an investigative project. Each composite carries the spirit and energy of a place or activity that is characteristic of life in the Hispanic community in the area where I live (Orange County).

I hope that visitors to the exhibit will share this feeling and leave with an infusion of excitement about the newest face of the new south. At the same time, I would also like visitors to recognize that there are real problems behind these portraits. The minute you raise a camera to an Hispanic face, you come head to head with the focal problem of Hispanic life. Life in the Hispanic community is still dominated by the strings that tie them to home countries –economic ties.