EyeAM is an example of how a commercial photographer Paul Guba responded to a situation in a local New Jersey town. After following a news story about how one town sought to prevent its immigrant population from publicly seeking work he felt what was lacking was understanding of the immigrant community. While meditating on the subject the question arose, what could a photographer do to be of help? It is in answering this question that the project began. The answer was a realization that as a commercial photographer what I do is make people, places, products look their best. If I could apply my commercial photography skill set to this group of people and provide a visual counter voice to those who’s message were the immigrants were inherently bad. In short I sought to balance the conversation by using photography as a messenger.
Things didn’t quite go as I expected. I made the trip out to Freehold NJ the town in question to introduce myself to an immigrant community unfazed by my own complete lacking in knowledge of the Spanish language. Fortunately most I met there had a much better grasp of English then I did Spanish. I was quite confident the group would be interested in pursuing my project as I was. Some how it seems introducing myself as a professional photographer and I am here to help you got lost in translation. I got some puzzled looks from the leadership there and was invited to have some coffee and take a seat. So that is what I did four about 3 weeks.
Fortunately for me they made good coffee and after the time passed as fate would have it the group found a need for some photography. In a sort of wait a second Paul Guba (you mean that guy who drinks all our coffee) is a commercial photographer lets ask him moment. The leadership informed me that they needed exactly what I had originally proposed to do, asked me if I would do it, and were very grateful when I told them I would do it. Patience is a great quality while working as a commercial photographer or with those whose language you don’t speak. I began to work on the project.
The EyeAM photography project has two underlying purposes First it is a declaration that subject of the photograph is of value and exist. Second as the viewer sees the images of these men and the viewer identifies with them as a fellow man. It is much harder to discriminate someone you identify with, while a faceless group can be blamed for all sorts of troubles. The images force the viewer to look these men in the eye. When we do so as viewer we see someone much more like ourselves, and understanding can begin.
My initial vision for the photography was more stylized and abstract. I had to quickly abandon this visual for several reasons. First was the group that formed Casa Freehold, New Jersey wanted to use the photos and they required a more straightforward approach. The men were not comfortable with being on set and getting their pictures taken so I usually had no more then 2-3 minutes to work with them. This combined with my language limitations dictated that I keep it simple. Secondly I realized that a more traditional approach added to the viewer’s ability to identify with the subject as many of us can see ourselves in a similar picture and this was essential to the success of the project.
The project has been a great success and has been exhibited multiple times. More importantly it was used as a teaching tool at several colleges and universities to begin a discussion of immigration and the economics of immigration. The initial showing was used as a fundraiser to help the newly formed Casa Freehold secure a small office space. Each of the men received a print and I have many anecdotes about these. I was given so much by my willingness to share my talents and help my fellow man I am forever grateful.