‘Different roots, common dreams:’ Local photographer captures cultural diversity in NH

Local photographer Becky Field, of Concord. (Courtesy of Michael Sterling)

Local photographer Becky Field, of Concord. (Courtesy of Michael Sterling)

By Mrinali Dhembla

May 13, 2024

Lifelong New Englander Becky Field said when she first expressed interest in photographing diversity in New Hampshire, a fellow photographer jokingly remarked, “you’ll be done in 15 minutes.”

“It’s been 12 years, and I’m still doing it!” she said.

Field, of Concord, who was formerly a graduate faculty at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said despite New Hampshire’s demographics being almost 90% white, she has been able to capture people from more than 50 different countries— including from Bhutan, Sudan, Egypt, Liberia, Somalia— and ethnicities all across the state for several projects.

While Field, who has a doctorate in comparative animal behavior and wildlife ecology, was always interested in different cultures and photography, it wasn’t until the artform became digitized that she began to take it up full time.

“I was not fond of the smells of the chemicals and developing photography,” she said. “And also, I didn’t like the developing process, which put a lot of metals, particularly silver into the water system.”

She moved up to New Hampshire from Massachusetts in the early 2000s to be closer with her aging mother, and ended up switching careers as photographer a couple of years later.

What gave her the impetus to help represent the state’s diversity in her work after a series of hate incidents toward refugee families occurred in 2011 and 2012, she recalled.

“There was hateful graffiti, written on the sides of refugee family homes,” she said. “It was written in permanent marker. And the words were terrible; they were insulting; they were racist.”

At the time, Field, who was getting a photography certificate at the New Hampshire Institute of Art (now the Institute of Art and Design at New England College), decided to capture that family’s story for a final project.

“I decided I was going to use my camera as a way to welcome people from other cultures, and to say, I see you, I admire your contributions.”

And after more than two decades of relentless work in the state, Field has two books and an ongoing traveling exhibition (she has lost count of how many she’s done in the past!) in her name.

Her first book, Different Roots, Common Dreams: New Hampshire’s Cultural Diversity, documents the lives and historic accounts of different ethnic, cultural and religious communities in New Hampshire.

“I organize the photographs by what I call life themes. Instead of saying, ‘Here’s all the people from Bhutan, here’s about people from Bosnia…I wanted to say: Here’s everybody loving their children; here’s everybody practicing their faith; here’s everybody working to support their families,’ ” she said. “And that’s the idea behind the title.”

It means a great deal to immigrants to see their photographs and stories captured, Field said. But what also kept Field’s photography projects going is the “surge” in immigration-related discussions in the political discourse.

“Pretty soon I realized that my photography could be used as a way to raise these issues,” she said. “And to give people a different view, rather than the prevailing ideas of how immigrants were taking jobs.”

Field’s second book, “Finding Home: Portraits and Memories of Immigrants,” has earned eight awards, including the 2021 best nonfiction book from the New Hampshire Writers’ Project.

“That book shows what I call the diversity in diversity,” she said. “People were coming for all kinds of reasons. They were coming to escape violence, for better education, better jobs … And they were coming because they fell in love.”

After her second book, she wanted to explore newer avenues of storytelling and decided to exclusively focus on curating a photography exhibition capturing the life of an asylum seeker in New Hampshire.

“At the time, the current administration under Donald Trump, their policy was to jail, shackle and chain people who asked for asylum,” she said of the Trump administration’s harsh immigration policies, some of which also resulted in thousands of family separations.“So we started documenting his life with this ankle monitor. We did it for a year and a half. The pictures that came from that (are in the exhibition).”

So far her exhibition, “Crying in the Wilderness: An Immigrant’s Journey in Detention,” has been shown in seven different venues all over the state — it was most recently at the Mariposa Museum and World Culture Center in Peterborough — and is currently in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Field perceives diversity as the backbone of any society, and it’s a theory she’s derived from her prior experience as an ecologist.

“If you have a biologically diverse ecosystem, it’s stronger, it’s more resilient,” she said. “So the very same way, if you look at cultural diversity in a community, if you’ve got people that come with different ideas of different backgrounds, different experiences, it strengthens your community.

It makes your community more resilient.”

Author

  • Mrinali Dhembla

    Based in Manchester, New Hampshire, Mrinali Dhembla is Granite Post's multimedia reporter. She's previously worked as deputy editor at The Keene Sentinel, and has experience writing for many national and international publications. When not doing journalism, she likes to cook food (and eat it).

CATEGORIES: LOCAL PEOPLE

Politics

Local News

Related Stories
Share This