US | Jonsar Studios: Framing the Immigrant

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

_FUS6344-EditPortrait by Jonsar Studios for, a grassroots organization tackling immigration reform. 



Jonsar StudiosAmerican citizens and photographers Katherine Sarkissian and Robert Johnson have a visceral understanding of the undocumented experience. They spent 15 years in Italy as undocumented immigrants—years that exposed them to the challenges, fears and anxieties of immigrant life. Sarkissian recalls, “We were constantly scared about money; getting paid was always an ordeal. We knew what it was to go through customs with expired visas.” Despite shooting campaigns for Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, and others, they lived in a state of constant uncertainty. “We’d go out shooting on the streets,” and if stopped, “. . . knew we might not make it back to our apartment,” says Sarkissian.

It is uncertainty that weighs on the millions of undocumented Americans, including those who arrived in the country before the age of 16, known as DREAMers (approximately 2.1 million people who have been brought to the U.S. as children and left without a way to become citizens). These young immigrants—spanning all ages and races—know no other place as home, yet fear of deportation is constant.

An immigration reform bill put before the United States Senate has proposed a pathway to citizenship—a way for DREAMers and other undocumented immigrants to be formally brought into the American community. It awaits a vote in the House of Representatives before President Obama can sign the bill into law. With a pathway to citizenship, DREAMers would be allowed to more fully participate in American life. According to the Center for American Progress, reform would mean an increase in tax revenues, a decrease in the federal budget deficit and the creation of  at least 1.4 million jobs from the DREAMer provisions alone. Reform would also signify a change in tone that recognizes the value of immigrants. 

Johnson and Sarkissian hadn’t planned on becoming activists for immigration reform. But given their own immigration saga in Italy, they jumped at the opportunity when an assistant facilitated a connection with (“Forward U.S.”), an advocacy group working to pass immigration reform, and the photographers’ studio, Jonsar Studios in Brooklyn, New York.

The project with centers on an interactive engagement with New York City residents to capture their stories and their thoughts on the immigration debates in the United States. At various public events around New York City, Jonsar builds a mobile photography studio and an interview room to record stories on video. Interviewees stand on a mark, sandwiched between studio lights and a black backdrop, to begin what Sarkissian calls “the dance” of the photograph. Next, they walk into a separate room where Johnson conducts an interview.

Stripping away the layers of punditry, talking points and policy, Jonsar’s stark black and white images do away with distractions, center on a common humanity, and convey that in America we are all immigrants.

The end results are black and white portraits with selected quotes. The images and stories featuring teachers, engineers and entrepreneurs from Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America reflect both the ambition and diversity of New York City’s residents and immigrants. When combined, the image and the written word aim to counter the pervasive narratives of the immigrant as the “other,” as “taking jobs from Americans,” or having expectations of a “free ride.” Such language obscures the fact that immigrants are everyday people with families and stories that reveal their hopes and dreams, the challenges they face and the tangible contributions they make to our communities as friends, neighbors, teachers, leaders and business owners. Stripping away the layers of punditry, talking points and policy, Jonsar’s stark black and white images do away with distractions, center on a common humanity, and convey that in America we are all immigrants.

Click any image to launch the Gallery of Portraits. (Images of courtesy of Jonsar Studios)

“We’ve seen the worst side of life and we want to focus on the positive sides and how you can really help people,” Sarkissian explains. “In our own way, we’re letting people know that their story matters, really truly, honestly matters.” It is this drive that compels Jonsar Studios to capture the immigrant experience in America.

The portraits not only reveal common dreams and aspirations, but they also shed light on the injustices within the immigration system. Like “Erick O,” for example, a young computer engineer. Brought to America by his parents at an early age, he remains undocumented and unable to fully participate in American life. His story, featured in the image above, is an example of the the millions of young Americans caught in the system with no way forward.

“Erick’s story touched us,” said Sarkissian. “We’ve lived in other countries [where] the worst they could do is kick us out. Erick has only lived here. The worst that they could do is take his whole life away. . . If you’ve lived your whole life in this country, you’re not an undocumented alien, you’re an American.”

The stories are calls to action. Jonsar’s photo of “Erick O,” for example, is featured on the homepage and has been amplified through social media. In response to Jonsar’s work, created nationwide “Portraits of America” and “Built By Immigrants” campaigns to ask people to produce their own images and text. The national campaigns are meant to amplify Jonsar’s work of humanizing the immigration debate through stories.

Like many successful social movements, stories often ignite the empathy needed to dissolve political boundaries of us vs. them. That empathy is the singular, driving force behind Jonsar’s art; they understand the power of the image and remain optimistic that even if they affect just one person at a time it might help change way America discusses, perceives and treats immigrants.


Ben Levison

Ben Levison is a freelance writer who has experience in advocacy, political campaigns and nonprofit work. After graduating from Amherst College he worked at the American University in Cairo during the Egyptian Revolution. He then contributed to successful presidential and senate races before moving to New York to work at a nonprofit and pursue writing.
Twitter: @eat_pray_Lev




OF NOTE Magazine is free to readers, free of advertising, and free of subscriptions—all made possible by generous supporters like you. Your tax tax-deductible gift will help us continue to feature innovative and emerging global artists using the arts as tools for social change. OF NOTE Magazine is a fiscally sponsored organization of the New York Foundation for the Arts, a 501 (c) (3), tax-exempt organization. All donations are 100% tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. 

0 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 0 Flares ×


437 Responses to “US | Jonsar Studios: Framing the Immigrant”
  1. Everyone loves what you guys tend to be up too. This kind of
    clever work and coverage! Keep up the amazing works guys I’ve added you guys to my blogroll.

  2. please pay a visit to the web-sites we follow, such as this one particular, as it represents our picks in the web

  3. standard information an individual provide on your guests?

  4. spy pen says:

    Yes. It should do the job. If it doesn at send us an email.

  5. ps4 games says:

    Good day! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok.

    I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

  6. The information talked about inside the write-up are a few of the most effective out there

  7. coupon codes says:

    wow, awesome article post.Much thanks again. Fantastic.

  8. very handful of web sites that transpire to become detailed below, from our point of view are undoubtedly effectively worth checking out

  9. please go to the sites we comply with, like this 1, as it represents our picks from the web

  10. cvs near says:

    the time to study or check out the content material or web sites we’ve linked to below the

  11. I enjoy what you guys are up too. This type of clever work and coverage!

    Keep up the very good works guys I’ve included you guys to my personal blogroll.

  12. check beneath, are some totally unrelated sites to ours, having said that, they may be most trustworthy sources that we use

  13. we came across a cool website that you just may love. Take a look in case you want

  14. viagra says:

    The pursuing are the different types of lasers we will be thinking about for the purposes I pointed out above:

  15. I thought it was going to be some boring old publish, but it really compensated for my time. I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am positive my visitors will find that very useful

  16. It’s difficult to find educated people in this particular topic, however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  17. It’s perfect time to make some plans for the future and it
    is time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could
    I desire to suggest you some interesting things or suggestions.
    Maybe you can write next articles referring to
    this article. I desire to read more things about it!

  18. There may be noticeably a bundle to find out about this. I assume you made sure good factors in options also.

  19. mascot logo says:

    I have been checking out some of your articles and i must say pretty good stuff. I will surely bookmark your site.

  20. togel hk says:

    you are really a good webmaster. The website loading speed is amazing. It seems that you are doing any unique trick. Furthermore, The contents are masterpiece. you’ve done a great job on this topic!

  21. I happen to be writing to make you understand of the outstanding encounter my child undergone browsing your site. She learned a lot of pieces, most notably what it’s like to possess a wonderful helping heart to make certain people without difficulty learn specific complex issues. You really exceeded our expected results. Many thanks for rendering such good, safe, educational and also cool tips on the topic to Emily.

  22. There is certainly a lot to learn about this issue.

    I really like all the points you’ve made.

  23. ROBUX says:

    Here is a great Blog You may Uncover Intriguing that we Encourage You

  24. the time to study or visit the material or web-sites we’ve linked to beneath the

  25. Normally I don at read post on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to check out and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, very great post.

  26. Say, you got a nice blog article.Thanks Again. Cool.

  27. Mary Wu says:

    Ahaa, its pleasant conversation about this post here at this blog, I have read all that, so at this time me also commenting here.

  28. It’а†s actually a nice and useful piece of info. I am satisfied that you shared this helpful info with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  29. I simply could not depart your site before suggesting that I actually enjoyed the standard info a person provide on your guests? Is gonna be back incessantly in order to check up on new posts.

  30. mlb중계 says:

    Thank you for any other informative website. Where else may I am getting that kind of information written in such a perfect means? I have a venture that I am just now operating on, and I’ve been at the glance out for such information.

  31. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is excellent blog. A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.

  32. hi!,I like your writing very a lot! share we keep in touch extra about your post on AOL? I need a specialist on this house to resolve my problem. May be that is you! Having a look forward to see you.

  33. Frankie Cox says:

    It’s the best time to make some plans for the future and
    it’s time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to
    suggest you some interesting things or advice.
    Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article.

    I desire to read more things about it!

  34. Online Article Every so often in a while we choose blogs that we read. Listed above are the latest sites that we choose

  35. It is truly a nice and useful piece of information.I

  36. Normally I do not read article on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very compelled me to take a look at and do so!
    Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you,
    very great article.

  37. Really enjoyed this blog article.Much thanks again.


0 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 0 Flares ×