Photo exhibit highlights the Bay State’s multicultural landscape

Photo exhibit highlights the Bay State’s multicultural landscape

From Wicked Local Falmouth, and Falmouth Bulletin, September 7, 2015
By Rachael Devaney


Mark Chester’s photography exhibit, “The Bay State: A Multicultural Landscape,” shows Massachusetts residents that it’s a small world, after all.

In the last four years, Chester has taken 300 portraits of naturalized U.S. citizens of the Commonwealth — who represent 178 countries from around the world — to include in his project. The exhibit, which also includes many Cape residents, is currently touring the state and can be seen at Falmouth Museums on the Green until Oct. 31.

Chester, who has been a professional photographer since 1972, said that the project began after he saw the results of a 2010 Massachusetts census which showed that 15 percent of the population was foreign-born. He said his curiosity was piqued and he set out to capture the faces that those numbers represented.

“When the census came out, I noticed there were 100 countries represented throughout the state just from that year and it showed how culturally diverse Massachusetts really is,” Chester said. “I began to wrap my mind around that and realized that I wanted to photograph a man, woman, or family from each country that represents that foreign-born population and depict them from a cultural standpoint and show others who they are and what their culture is like.”

The project, which Chester began in 2011, now depicts hundreds of “New Americans” that have come to Massachusetts from countries like Mauritius, Sudan, Lithuania, Malawi, and the Congo. Each subject is depicted looking directly at the camera – many wearing their traditional garments and jewelry. They are shot at a variety of places including community settings, their homes, places of employment, or even at their naturalization ceremonies. The caption below each picture reads their country of birth, the current city or town in which they live, their name, the year of their birth, and the year they became U.S. citizens.

Amanda Wastrom, curator at Falmouth Museums on the Green said, “At its best, ‘The Bay State: A Multicultural Landscape’ is a great story.”

“This collection of portraits is also a rich collection of stories, revealed through the subtle and not so subtle, details of each photograph,” she said. “Stories of family, relationships, work, journeys—and ultimately, pride. No matter which page one happens to land on, what immediately strikes the viewer is the pride captured in the subject’s face and body language. It is a pride that seems to emanate from within—pride of place and of person.”

While Chester, whose father was originally from Russia, continues to search for people to add to the collection, he said that it has “been challenging” to do so. Not only has Chester attended hundreds of naturalization ceremonies across the state, he has also contacted universities, perused ethnic restaurants, and formed collaborations with groups like the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). He said that, after the non-profit helped him with credentials, it gave him easier access to immigrants and refugees who were willing to share their story.