The birth of a documentary exhibition

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.


15 Responses to “The birth of a documentary exhibition”

  1. John,

    Leave it to you to continuously innovate, inspire and develop! Well done.

    I love the images and the commentary developed thus far. By creating a live documentary, you can cater to the feedback and alter the piece as you move along. That method is so much more in tune with social networking and new media than the retrospecive point of view.

    I didn’t see any video yet. Did I miss it? If not, it will be interesting to see how you document the daily lives of these immigrants as they are immersed in our culture and attempt to preserve some of their own.

    Looking forward to more.



  2. Meg Distler Says:

    John: You’ve done a beautiful job capturing the best human spirit in these new members of our community. I found your comments about your experiences combined with the poignant pictures very touching.



  3. David Kirk Says:

    Hi John,
    Your portraits look straight out of that “old media” National Geographic! Beautiful soft lighting and wonderful faces. Nice idea to do an evolving documentary. I’ll keep watching.

  4. This is AMAZING.

    The photos are fantastic. Brilliant.

    I know your focus is not on historical immigration but on current immigration, but here’s one point of view that would be interesting. “Yearning to Breathe Free” comes from the Statue of Liberty inscription. I have always wondered what African Americans feel or think when they see the Statue of Liberty. For you and me, it represents a symbol of our European ancestors entering the New World. But since ancestors of many African Americans did not enter our shores “yearning to breathe free,” but as slaves, I wonder what the Statue represents to them????

    I did find this bit of info online:

    “The conventional interpretation of the statue as a monument to American immigrants is a twentieth-century phenomenon. In its early years (1871-1886), that view was only rarely and vaguely expressed, while references to the Civil War and abolition of slavery occur repeatedly from its first introduction to the United States in 1871 up to and including the dedication celebrations in 1886. Immigrants did not actually see the Statue of Liberty in large numbers until after its unveiling. In the early twentieth century, the statue became a popular symbol for nativists and white supremacists. Official use of the statue’s image to appeal to immigrants only began in earnest with public efforts to Americanize immigrant children and the government’s advertising campaign for World War I bonds. The “immigrant” interpretation gained momentum in the 1930s as Americans prepared for war with Hitler and by the 1950s, it had become the predominant understanding of the statue’s original purpose and meaning.”


    Sorry if I went off topic a bit, but your project is very thought-provoking!

    GREAT project, I am very impressed with the idea, the execution — everything.

    • yearningtobreathefree Says:

      Steve, I just want to thank you (finally) for your thought-provoking comment that I’ve been thinking about since the day you wrote it. The added info from the web is compelling, too. The Statue seems to have been used for several purposes over the years, which I find fascinating. And your question about how African Americans might view the Statue is also much food for thought. These are some of the kinds of comments I was hoping to receive from the blog’s audience. I hope you’ll keep up with it and continue to feed me your thoughts. The end product will be the richer for it.

  5. I am really looking forward to watching this come together! I’m going to do my (small) part by posting an entry at my own blog about this and hopefully a few of my readers will wander over … and wonder!

  6. Mary Tyndall Says:

    Bravo John!

    I look forward to seeing and learning more!


  7. Kathy Wildermuth Says:

    It’s fascinating to glimpse this culture that I am aware exists here in FW, but which I rarely have a chance to interact with. The photos are beautiful. Children are so honest and spontaneous in their reactions and you capture that well. Looking forward to the next installment.

  8. I really like the idea of presenting the media as they’re collected, rather than presented after you’ve had time to polish them and put them together in a bright, shiny package. This way, it does seem more relevant and timely, and also more suited to retaining this information. I know I learn better when presented with something just bits at a time.

  9. John,

    It is an honor to be asked for my opinions on your work. Your efforts are amazing and I am thrilled to be able to observe the images and stories ahead. Thank you for helping us to understand each other as Americans.

    Peace and music!

  10. Diane Dickson Says:

    Thank-you for embarking upon this project. I have been farming the Foster Park community garden plots for four years, and have admired how the Burmese farmers toil long hours growing their native vegetables. It is my understanding that they grow food for their community. After viewing your beautiful photographs, I realized how little I know about the Burmese culture. Up to this point, I have only managed a friendly wave towards my fellow Burmese farmers as they drive by my plot. Of course, they always wave back! I hope that after more postings on your blog, I might be able to have a more direct interaction with them in the future. So if you could post “Hello, how’s it going,” or “what’s that vegetable?” in Burmese (complete with phonetic pronunciations), I would be highly appreciative.

  11. Lovely work. I can almost feel the tenderness in some of them. I am proud to know you and this project. I cannot wait to see and hear about more.

  12. John-
    Being a huge fan of your work (and of you), I want to tell you that seeing this project come to life is exciting in so many ways. I remember you talking about ‘new media’ from almost the time we met, and YTBF brings it to life in the most beautiful, John-like way. I am hooked. What this reminds me of is the way a book like “The Kite Runner” takes me into the heart of a population I know very little about. That is the best way to learn about different cultures, in my opinion. How can you help but care deeply about people when you learn about their lives, especially through a lens as sensitive as yours?

    I have no suggestions for you, other than to keep doing what you’re doing! I love reading what others have written, too!

  13. Outstanding work–

    I have thorughly enjoyed the work thus far. There is alot to learn about the Burmese people, their culture, and their impact in the FW community and you are contributing a medium for others to get insight.
    I am a fanatic of documentaries on PBS mainly because of the stories, the TRUE stories of people and their unique situations that I would otherwise be deprived of, and believe your work should definately have an opportunity to be on… best of luck and look forward to future developments.
    Great Work!

  14. David Sowards Says:

    Good story, keep in touch,

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