Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Artist Statement: The Movement of People

Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.1
-Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve spent much of my life transient and this experience inspired the title of this show: The Movement of People. I was born in the United States but spent most of my childhood and adolescent years in Nairobi, Kenya. Even my first year of university was outside of the United States in London, England. Often when I was growing up I felt caught somewhere between fitting in and terribly out of place. That feeling didn’t change in or out of the United States. I believe it is precisely this lack of a “home” that inspires me to search out people with common experiences. The act of hearing others’ stories of struggle, movement and self-awareness gives me a sense of community. It is in their experiences that I find myself—not because our stories are the same but because I relate to the emotions they have.

The Movement of People is a collection of five individuals’ stories. Each in some way relates to immigration. Some are stories of immigrating to the United States for work or education; others are stories of working with immigrants because of personal experiences that have convicted them to do so. Each is unique and I believe each individual’s story help us understand ourselves a little more. With all of my art, whether in documentaries or photography, the theme is the same. My art is informed by the curiosity of sociology and by my life experiences, and it provides the opportunity for people to tell their stories.

I would like to highlight several aspects of the technique and style of my show because I think they contribute to the understanding of the theme of movement.
• First, I chose to crop all of the portraits with the dimensions of a passport photo.
• Second, I shot all of the portraits with an 85mm lens and aperture setting of 2.0; this narrow depth of field and the black backdrop are intentional and meant to highlight the eyes and facial features of each individual. Hopefully this allows each viewer to relate to the person and not be distracted by the surroundings.
• Third, all of the frames are hand-made and intentionally rough. This is to create a natural earthy experience and draw the viewer still closer to the image. Don’t be afraid to step right up to the photography. We all have pores and eyelashes; usually you just can’t see them in photographs.
• Forth, the set of three images corresponds with the portrait. They are a set of documentary-style photographs that give us a small glimpse into each individual’s life.
• Finally, the audio is a brief recording of each person’s story of immigration, or how and why he or she became involved with people who have immigrated to the United States.

Thank you for coming and please enjoy the show.
-Jon Helfers

1. King, Martin Luther Jr. Stride Toward Freedom: the Montgomery Story. New York: Harper, 1958.


Vanessa One

Vanessa Two

Vanessa Three


Steve One

Steve Two

Steve Three


Patrick One

Patrick Two

Patrick Three


Gustavo One

Gustavo Two

Gustavo Three


Armando One

Armando Two

Armando Three