An Arizona State Senator, Russell Pearce, described the 11 to 20 million immigrants living in the united states as ‘drug smugglers, human smugglers, gang members and child molesters.’ Meehan attempts to present a different perspective for her series Undocumented, photographing the homes of residents without a via all across New England.
This photographic project by Mary Beth Meehan, explores the rooms of undocumented immigrants in America. She provides a simple insight into their lives, whilst not actually having to show who any of the people are. She gives an insight into their personalities and the things that they enjoy or are into. Each photograph comes with a caption, or a story of sorts that explains what the person is doing, what their ambitions may be or how they came to be where they are. Each story is different, but each person is embedded into society and for ethical reasons it why Meehan chose to not show any of their faces. She is considerate of them as humans and as individuals, but wants to highlight the issues and the problems that these people face, as they are not given the same rights and opportunities as others are.
In an article on the project, it was said that “Contrary to political rhetoric on the subject, Meehan photographs a group of people deeply embedded in their local communities; attending school, church, working, volunteering and paying taxes like every other citizen. The series captures a domestic landscape slightly askew, requiring the viewer to pick out the tell-tale clues of who these people are and the lives they are trying to build.” – Jenna Garrett
Some of the rooms are abundant with trophies and lazy boy sofas, making the rooms feel decidedly American. However there are hints of an immigrant household, blended together into the consumerist outlook on American lifestyle.
The rooms were photographed because the owners were afraid to show their faces. They cannot openly plead their case, nor can they risk exposure for fear they will lose everything they have worked hard to build. For immigrants, the American dream is a goal both precious and fragile and Meehan has tried to create a presentation of those living in this way with an intimate view of their life for those who are unable to have a voice.
I love the images shown that Meehan has created because they take a personal look into someones life without having to show them directly. She has been respectful of their wishes and as a result, created this insight into how they have managed to make a sort of life for themselves. Every image is different and every room has a different personality, and I think Meehan has been successful in challenging the stereotypes that the Senator suggested of all these people. There may be many migrants but that does not mean they should all be generalised and stereotyped into once bracket. In fact they are all different, and some just want to live their life as best they can. Photography is often a lot to do with representation and by representing these people through their rooms it shows how they have integrated themselves into society and because no one knows they are immigrants, they are just like anyone else. They are not defined by the stereotype, yet they are still at risk. I also love how it is an introduction to the everyday. We see these everyday environments, and everyday rooms and just looking at them gives an insight into how people live every single day. It is nothing special or momentous, but in that moment it matters and it becomes something because it says something about that person in particular.
Photography like this has the power to communicate in such a way that it becomes a powerful tool in the realisation that these people are just like anyone else. They have room, dreams, aspirations – they want to live in peace just like anyone else.
The project goes to show photography can be powerful without necessarily having to show the people in question. It shows ethically a topic can be talked about and discussed but it doesn’t have to discuss individual people. It is a great project, with some fantastic stories about the people who travelled and worked hard to get where they are, but there are still uncertainties facing them. Visually it works really well and I think it makes a great point about how immigration is dealt with and looked at in a stereotypical way. It aims to challenge perceptions and I feel to an extent it does this well.