Art Out: Wendy Ewald & Martín Weber in Dialogue
By Darcey Pittman
In a homey East Village office, an attentive audience sat filling the room, witnessing the first meeting of Martín Weber and Wendy Ewald last Thursday night. Hosted by Magnum Foundation, these two creative documentary photographers shared their latest projects and joined in conversation about the deeper meaning of their work.
An Argentina-native, Weber focused on capturing Latin Americans through photographing them with a chalkboard in his latest work, Map of Latin American Dreams. Weber asked his subjects to share their dream or wish and write it down on the chalkboard to be photographed with them. Written mostly in Spanish, but also English and Indigenous languages, people shared everything from basic needs of money and a home to deep desires of peace and personal stability.
“[The chalkboards] became a way of bringing in a space that is not in the image, and that was very interesting for me,” Weber said.
Bringing in the element of the chalkboard was important, but it is fully realized through showing the person in their own environment. Weber says context matters because it shows the person’s background and how their dream could transform their life.
“I wanted to see how to combine in an image past, present, and future and that’s how I came up with the idea of asking people about their dreams,” Weber said. “That question makes them think about their past, to share it in the present, and somehow project us into the future, the future that they imagine.”
Following Weber’s presentation, Ewald took the mic to share her most recent project on refugees and immigrants in the United States. Ewald worked with 18 teens from a high school in Philadelphia, PA who have all immigrated to the US. She got to know each one of them and as a group they worked to describe the experience of being an immigrant, told through an A-Z format. Each letter of the alphabet focuses on one word and an image to represent being an immigrant.
Ewald sees the A-Z format as an effective tool for a difficult topic like immigration because it creates a safe and simple starting place. From there, the students used their own narratives to inform the images, incorporating items form their migration and words of their native tongue into the work. Ewald interviewed each one of the teens in the project and their stories are included in her book, America Border Culture Dreamer, featuring this collection.
“I just felt like knocked over every time [I did an interview],” Ewald said. “This whole idea of what it means to move around and what it means to change all the time like that and the things that they confront – it was so painful.”
Once completed, the project was installed in a public space in Philadelphia. Ewald was concerned about the installation being attacked, talking with the students about how they would address this. Thankfully no one did and the public admired the display, but if it had been attacked, Ewald was impressed with the students’ willingness to defend their work.
With paralleling themes connecting their photography, Weber and Ewald sat in dialogue with each other for the discussion part of the event. Both pointed to the important theme of humanizing their subjects who have been through hardships as part of marginalized groups.
Weber and Ewald agreed that it is amazing how their subjects moved them while creating their work. “Most of the people had cherished more the moment that we had shared than the picture itself, which for me was very rewarding,” Weber said. “It’s not about making pictures, it’s about sharing something and hopefully reaching an audience.”
Ewald echoed this idea in sharing how engaging with the students in her project helped humanize the experience of being an immigrant. Weber’s work accomplishes a similar type of humanizing through showing people from across Latin America living their life and aspiring to dreams not unlike our own.