Archive for August, 2009

Burmese graduation

Posted in burmese, documentary, muslim with tags , , , , , on August 21, 2009 by yearningtobreathefree

A Burmese boy awaits graduation.

A Burmese boy awaits graduation. © John Gevers. All rights reserved.

It was one drippingly hot day recently when hundreds of Burmese refugees and their supporters gathered under an immense, slightly rickety homemade tent to celebrate the graduation of their children from the Muslim Sunday School in Fort Wayne.

Burmese sisters watch and wait.

Burmese sisters watch and wait. © John Gevers. All rights reserved.

It was an honor for me to be accepted into the gathering and make photographs for the documentary. Although my language wasn’t spoken much at the affair, I was struck by how much everyone made me feel comfortable and welcomed.

A break in the celebration permits time for prayers.

A break in the celebration permits time for prayers. © John Gevers. All rights reserved.

This was partially a religious event but even though I presented myself conspicuously at the front of the tent with my camera gear and sat on the ground in front of everyone to make images, a dignified-looking elder found a chair and brought it to me. That kind of hospitality would be shown to me throughout the rest of my five hours at the festive, holy gathering of Muslim humanity.

A Burmese girl watches a performance.

A Burmese girl watches a performance. © John Gevers. All rights reserved.

As I gazed at these gloriously dressed individuals, watched their warm interactions, and listened to their chant, songs, readings, and celebrations, I was humbled by them and their acute sense of community and family.

Mother and son bond.

Mother and son bond. © John Gevers. All rights reserved.

Fort Wayne’s newest refugees don’t have much and the majority just scrape by these first months/years after their escape from the military regime in their country. But they certainly have each other and their faith. And they remain strong and dignified. Adjusting to a drastically new culture has to be difficult, and I’ll document those challenges. For now, though, just know that I found the Burmese refugees in this gathering to be hearty, hale, and inviting.

Fatherly pride.

A father celebrates his daughter's success. © John Gevers. All rights reserved.

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The birth of a documentary exhibition

Posted in documentary with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2009 by yearningtobreathefree

Much of what makes the United States of America great is her tradition of welcoming immigrants, especially those fleeing troubled lands. In fact, the U.S. was founded by immigrants who sought a better existence. Most all American citizens are descendents of immigrants, and we make up a rich land of varied peoples thanks to America’s open arms.

It is this American tradition of welcoming people from other countries that is the focus of Yearning to Breathe Free, a documentary exhibition now in production. However, rather than an historical retelling of immigration in the U.S., the focus is on how current immigrants and refugees are being welcomed in today’s post 9/11 climate — in northern Indiana, the crossroads of America.

Yearning to Breathe Free is intended to be a compelling collection of images and stories that documents on-going immigration and its impact on the cultural health of the United States and to her reputation in the world. It is also intended to improve the lives of immigrants in America by diminishing stigmas that can harm them.

This blog will follow the pre-, pro-, and post-production of creating Yearning to Breathe Free. Here, you will hear from the production’s creator, John Gevers, who is director of photography at NEW MEDIA BREW, Inc., a media arts company based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He will share with you not only the processes, joys, and  challenges of such an undertaking as it happens, but he will also use this forum to provide advance stories, images, audio, and video as they are collected.

Your comments, questions, and ideas are welcomed, but please be civil.