Photographer celebrates migrants around the world
Boston — It didn’t take a divisive presidential election to get Mark Chester interested in immigrants. Chester has been celebrating immigrants for years, making it his mission to photograph two people from every nation.
Chester is well on his way. Since 2011, he’s photographed people from 185 of the world’s 196 countries, all of them immigrants who have settled in Massachusetts, a state he affectionately calls “a mini United Nations.” All his subjects have become naturalized U.S. citizens.
Chester’s collection of more than 350 photographs have been exhibited around Massachusetts — most recently at the Statehouse — and he is now putting them into a book he plans to distribute free to schools and libraries around the state.
He said his project, called “The Bay State: A Multicultural Landscape — Photographs of New Americans,” has taken on new meaning since Republican President-elect Donald Trump said during his campaign he would build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S.
“It seems like it’s more important to bring attention to this now,” he said, adding that “people from other countries are living here, they’re Americans. The purpose of this is to educate, to enlighten, to make people aware of people from different countries.”
“This wasn’t intended to be any kind of geopolitical statement when I first started this,” he said.
Chester’s photos offer a glimpse into the lives of immigrants who have embraced their new country but retained some of the culture of their homelands.
There is 92-year-old Maria Dias, leaning on her cane in front of a beach shack in Truro, on the tip of Cape Cod, dressed in a traditional embroidered shawl and apron of her native Portugal.
Haseeb Hosein, originally from Trinidad and Tobago and now a Boston police district commander, is shown smiling in front of his office, dressed in his police blues.
Olga Kwasniewski, a native of the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, is shown standing in front of Boston Harbor, wearing a sash celebrating her win in a 2013 beauty pageant.
Kwasniewski, who is now a restaurant owner and model, said she agreed to be photographed by Chester because she thinks it’s important to celebrate the contributions immigrants make to America and the gratitude they feel to be U.S. citizens.
“The way he is picturing people at their workplace or their home, that shows how they are still bringing part of their country to American life, and how their lives have changed here,” she said.
Chester, 71, a professional photographer who lives on Cape Cod, is applying for cultural grants, looking for corporate sponsors and raising private money to publish his book.
To find subjects from countries around the world, he attends naturalization ceremonies, goes to ethnic restaurants and has even been known to ask cab drivers where they’re from.
He’s still searching for people from 11 countries, including Comoros, an archipelago off Africa’s East Coast; Tonga, a Polynesian kingdom of South Pacific Islands; and Liechtenstein, a German-speaking principality between Austria and Switzerland.
One of the project’s sponsors is the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
Sue Parsons, MIRA’s development coordinator, said Chester’s photos capture the sense of optimism many immigrants have after they settle here.
“Each photo shows their energy, and their hopefulness shines through,” Parsons said.