A photographer and writer team — the latter a former Brooklyn Paper arts editor and Steely Dan correspondent — have produced a book of photo essays on the lives of newly arrived immigrants fleeing from famine, war, and persecution.
Upon arrival, many refugees stay in modest motel rooms.
“It’s really incredible, because they don’t know anything about our world,” said photographer Gabriele Stabile, who along with his writing partner Juliet Linderman will speak at powerHouse Arena in DUMBO tonight at 7 pm.
“When they’re first arriving, they need a human to hang onto and talk to and make sense of their story.”
Stabile said he decided that he wanted to photograph refugees on their first night in the United States after reading a 2006 New York Times article about a “refugee hotel” in Queens. He went to the inn mentioned in the article and photographed the newcomers from Burundi, Sudan, Thailand, and Iraq — most of them coming from camps — as they encountered for the first time such exotic items as beds and televisions. Stabile even recalled one West African family that attempted to sleep between their box spring and their mattress.
The snapshots Stabile took are candid, unplanned — fleeting moments of doubt and disorientation.
“It’s just a moment in a person’s life, the moment where they leave the uncertainty of the past and go toward this question mark which is their future in America,” said Stabile.
But it wasn’t until Stabile teamed up with Linderman that he considered what lay beyond that question mark.
“She told me, ‘Look, you should really follow up with these people,’ ” said Stabile.
And so the pair began hopping from state to state to catch up with the subjects of the photos.
Stabile and Linderman found some of the refugees had triumphed in America, such as one Sudanese man who ended up helping other immigrants become homeowners through Habitat for Humanity. Others found their new environment just as inhospitable as the one they left, like a Thai woman who became paralyzed in a gang shooting in Charlottesville, Virginia.
For Linderman, all of the stories and snapshots are just pieces of the American mosaic.
“We’re not trying to make any sweeping claims about the refugee community, we’re just trying to highlight individual stories about people who came here,” Linderman said.
“Refugee Hotel” at powerHouse Arena [37 Main St., at Water Street in DUMBO, (718) 666–3049, powerhousearena.com]. Feb. 26, 7 pm.