SAM COMEN PHOTOGRAPHY

Working America

 

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These video portraits of 1st and 2nd generation immigrant Los Angelenos, made in the tradition of the “small trades,” are my photographic response to the contradictory anti-immigrant yet pro-worker rhetoric coming from the White House.

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“Opportunity comes and you got to grab it, and don't let it go.”

Antonio Gomez
Ranch Hand

 
 
 

Capizzi: “It’s frustrating that we’re still considered immigrants because we’re just... American.”

Yang: “I don’t think it matters if you're born here or not. We all just want to have a small place here that belongs to us.”

Chris Capizzi (Left) & Jenny Yang (Right)
Booksellers

 
 
 
 

Mateo: “U.S. citizens won’t do the work we’re willing to do -- we settle for such little money. 

Rodriguez: “If they remove all the immigrants, do you think someone else will come here looking for a job here? It’s hard! They won’t come looking for this. ” 

Veronica Mateo (Left) & Ermelinda Rodriguez (Right) | Zipper Cutters

 
 
 
 

“I’m from here, but I feel more Mexican than American. ”

Jesus Sera | Dishwasher

 
 
 
 

Guerrero: “I just don’t want to be asking for help when I know I can do it.”

Gonzalez: “We all contribute to the country, so in a way, we’re all Americans.” 

Bryan Guerrero (Left) & Nestor Gonzalez (Right) | Carpet washers

 
 
 
 

“For me, the most important thing is to help people.”

Gevorg Tavanian | Orthopedic shoemaker

 
 
 
 

“The idea of loving your neighbors and sharing the wealth with people is important to me. I think of the U.S. as a country built upon this idea, and so I love the U.S.”

Young Ae Jung | Tailor

 
 
 
 

“I just kept weaving right here for 42 years. It's my first job, and probably my last one. I’ll just keep going until my life ends.”

Pascual Olmos | Furniture caner

 
 
 
 

“I know that I'm an American: I don't care what other people think an American is or not.”

Hisham Abahusayn | Set electrician

 
 
 
 

“People don’t understand not being able to go home, not being able to see our family.”

Antonio Murillo | Zipper painter

 
 
 

“There is no anti-immigrant situation that I've seen here. Companies have always been raided. It's not the first time.”

Greg Kreugermann | Sauerkraut & pickle maker

 
 
 
 

“If we are forced to leave this country, what will happen to our children?”

Evangelina Mendez | Zipper machine operator

 
 
 
 

“Anti-immigrant sentiment?  I’ve seen a lot in my life, and I think there's just a lot of talk right now. ”

Everardo Avelar | Furniture caner

 
 
 
 

“Every chance you get, you have to dedicate 100%.”

Alejandro Garcia | Baker

 
 
 
 

“I don’t think we’re doing anything bad. It’s that we want work. We need to live. We’re looking for a better life.”

Camilo Hernandez | Ranch manager

 
 
 
 

“This business kept the family together. My dad pretty much ‘set the table’ with it, and asked us to come and sit down.”

Oscar Dominguez | Locksmith

 
 
 
 

“I would have liked to have another job, to study, to know more English. ”

Mario Rosales | Baker

 
 
 
 

“I started with nothing and I built it up.”

Charles Sztanski | Art framer

 
 
 
 

“There’s no such a thing as discrimination in the U.S. It doesn’t exist!”

Juan Crisanto | Florist

 
 
 
 

“There’s a lot of hate. Once you’re here, it gets harder.”

Cynthia Patricia Aguilar | Chef/server

 
 
 
 

“I realized only in America do we have so many immigrants -- I never felt like I didn't belong here.”

Lana Brezhnev | Esthetician

 
 
 
 

“I don't think my children will follow in my footsteps.”

Erick Rabañales | Vacuum repairman

 
 
 
 

“You can still succeed by doing your best, working, doing as the law requires. We have always done so.”

Miguel Pu Ixcotoyac | Power tool mechanic

 
 
 
 

“What we need to do is pray to God for the President’s enlightenment, for Him to change his heart.”

Esthela Rentería | Zipper machine operator

 
 
 
 
 

“America I think comes with immigrants. If immigrants won’t come, you must buy one apple for $20.”

Hamo Ashasian | Cabinet maker

 
 
 
 

“When I got here, we were barely heard. But now I think the voice of the immigrant is even louder than before. All the politicians are talking about us. They see how we are coming together. We have a voice in this country.”

Byron Diaz | Horse groom

 
 
 
 

“I think as an outsider I can see certain things more clearly than people who grew up here, because we all have blind spots.”

Marco Schmidli | Scenic backdrop painter

 
 
 
 

“We are working on not only making money here, but helping others. That is my duty, I believe, with what God has given to us.”

Sharon Choi | Landscaping tool repair shop owner

 
 
 
 

“Especially in [restaurants,] you can really see that structure -- of whoever is Hispanic, where they work, and whoever is white -- where they work.”

Boris Macquin | Waiter

 
 
 

“The example I set is being responsible, at both my work and at home; responsibility, in a word. That’s how you get by.”

Ruben Morales | Machine operator

 
 
 
 

“God intended for us to work. I think that’s what humans are supposed to be doing.”

Alexander Choi | Landscaping tool repairman

 
 
 
 

“You just got to look forward and work hard.”

César Santillan Useda | Art framer

 
 

PROJECT STATEMENT

 

Walking and driving every day in my native Los Angeles, I look around and see an economically thriving microcosm of multi-racial immigrant America. This is in stark contrast to the menacing vision of immigration in the U.S. coming from the White House. Trump, generous with his praise of working class Americans, is quick to denigrate immigrants who are also of the working class, but happen to be, by and large, non-whites.

This project is a photographic response to that dichotomy. Immigrants thrive in this country with a variety of skills, but often, given their backstories of marginalization and the demands of survival in a modern society, they gravitate towards the “small trades” – many of them taking on the same jobs that Eugéne Atget, August Sander, and Irving Penn documented in their seminal bodies of work.

Through diligence, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit these new Americans seek a chance to better their lives and the lives of their children through the universally acknowledged mandate of rolling up their sleeves and going to work. In homage to Atget’s Parisian portraits, Sander’s “People of the 20th Century” and Penn’s daylight studio work, I felt pulled to document some of the workers who’s grace and grit are on display every day in Los Angeles.

These small trades men and women, all of whom generously agreed to pause their work and be my subjects, are earning their paths forward through their labor and economic contribution. None are asking for a free ride.