YOUNGSTOWN Exhibit to focus on working people

Local health care and library workers will get a chance to contribute to the exhibit.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Working people -- their priorities, joys and struggles -- are the focus of UnseenAmerica, a traveling photography exhibit on display through July 8 at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor.
And by year's end, workers in the Mahoning Valley will get an opportunity to photograph their own chapter, adding local flavor to what is growing into a project with nationwide representation.
The Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University is sponsoring the local showing of the original exhibit, 40 black and white photographs taken of and by working people in New York City.
Film to be shown
"People Like Us," a two-hour film documentary on class in America that was featured on PBS last fall, will also be shown at 1 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday in conjunction with the photo display.
The exhibit and the film are free.
Esther Cohen, executive director of the New York-based Bread & amp; Roses Cultural Project, said UnseenAmerica began as an effort to give working class people opportunities to tell their stories through photography. Bread & amp; Roses is the cultural arm of the Service Employees International Union, Local 1199.
She started with people from a wide range of occupations: Chinese laundry workers, nannies, home health-care workers, building maintenance workers and unemployed senior citizens. Participants were given training in basic photography and guidance on how to find pictures to tell their stories.
Using donated cameras, they produced hundreds of photographs to document their lives at work and at home. The photos on display were chosen by the workers themselves as the best of the lot.
"These are people who have been unseen in the media," Cohen said. "Their photographs are different from what a professional photographer might take."
Some examples
One migrant worker, for example, was fascinated with taking photographs of chairs. "She said she loved chairs because she never had a chance to sit down," Cohen said.
A nanny, eager to counteract a stern and serious stereotype, took pictures of her fellow nannies dancing. A health-care worker snapped shots of a co-worker with an arm around an elderly patient's shoulders as a way to show the affection between them.
Cohen has recruited William Padisak Jr., president of the 2,500-member Service Employees International Union Local 627, to find Youngstown-area workers willing to snap their own version of UnseenAmerica here.
Padisak said he'll have no trouble finding interested participants among his members. Local 627 represents health-care workers at Northside and Trumbull Memorial medical centers and several area nursing facilities, as well as local library workers.
After piloting the program in New York City, Cohen said, she's helped to start four worker photo groups in Chicago and has programs about to take off in Indianapolis, in a rural village in Kentucky and in Jackson, Miss.
She made a decision to include Youngstown in the program after attending a conference sponsored by the Center for Working Class Studies at YSU last year.
Sherry Linkon, co-director, said the Center for Working Class Studies will be seeking additional grants to help Local 627 put together a local version of the photo project.

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