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Concord's Becky Field to showcase photos of refugees and immigrants

  • Suta Khatiwada embraces Becky field as she photographs a Diwali celebration at the royal Garden Apartment Complex; November 13, 2012.  Becky Field used to be the Director of Communications for the Red Cross and is now a student at the New Hampshire Art Institute working on a long-term photo project about refugees and immigrants in Concord.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

    Suta Khatiwada embraces Becky field as she photographs a Diwali celebration at the royal Garden Apartment Complex; November 13, 2012. Becky Field used to be the Director of Communications for the Red Cross and is now a student at the New Hampshire Art Institute working on a long-term photo project about refugees and immigrants in Concord.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • A photograph from Becky Field's  documentary photo project "We are duifferent, We are one"  looking at the immigrant and refugee population in Concord.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Becky Field

    A photograph from Becky Field's documentary photo project "We are duifferent, We are one" looking at the immigrant and refugee population in Concord.

    Courtesy of Becky Field Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • A photograph from Becky Field's  documentary photo project "We are duifferent, We are one"  looking at the immigrant and refugee population in Concord.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Becky Field

    A photograph from Becky Field's documentary photo project "We are duifferent, We are one" looking at the immigrant and refugee population in Concord.

    Courtesy of Becky Field Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • A photograph from Becky Field's  documentary photo project "We are duifferent, We are one"  looking at the immigrant and refugee population in Concord.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Becky Field

    A photograph from Becky Field's documentary photo project "We are duifferent, We are one" looking at the immigrant and refugee population in Concord.

    Courtesy of Becky Field Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Suta Khatiwada embraces Becky field as she photographs a Diwali celebration at the royal Garden Apartment Complex; November 13, 2012.  Becky Field used to be the Director of Communications for the Red Cross and is now a student at the New Hampshire Art Institute working on a long-term photo project about refugees and immigrants in Concord.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)
  • A photograph from Becky Field's  documentary photo project "We are duifferent, We are one"  looking at the immigrant and refugee population in Concord.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Becky Field
  • A photograph from Becky Field's  documentary photo project "We are duifferent, We are one"  looking at the immigrant and refugee population in Concord.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Becky Field
  • A photograph from Becky Field's  documentary photo project "We are duifferent, We are one"  looking at the immigrant and refugee population in Concord.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Becky Field

When Becky Field was a little girl, she learned to appreciate the natural world from her parents. She turned that love of nature into her career as a wildlife ecologist in Alaska and western Massachusetts.

But when Field, now 66 and living in Concord, retired from teaching and research six years ago, she turned back to other lessons from her childhood for inspiration on the next chapters of her life.

Field is the featured speaker at this year’s Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast this morning. She’s spent the past year and a half photographing New Hampshire’s immigrant and refugee residents as a documentary project with the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Some of her photos of Concord residents will be on display during her speech.

Photography is actually a third career for Field, who spent five years as communications director for the N.H. Red Cross after her teaching and research career. She moved to New Hampshire 11 years ago to be closer to her mother, who was ill and living in the Hanover area.

She pointed to her father and uncle, who were avid nature photographers, and to a book the family had around the house when Field was growing up, The Family of Man. It includes photographs of people from all over the world, organized by life events

instead of location.

When the book was published in 1955, “it was revolutionary to put children from Africa next to children from New York City. But I grew up thinking this was fabulous,” Field said.

Another of the lessons that inspired her third act came from her mother, Field said.

The year she was in fourth or fifth grade, her mother agreed to host two delegates from the United Nations at the Fields’ Connecticut home. The men, one from Lebanon and one from Russia, spent a week with the family, learning about America and sharing their own cultural traditions.

“My mother stayed in touch with the man from Lebanon throughout the rest of her life,” Field said. “It was a family that was very open to treating people with equal justice, to treating people fairly and caring about them, regardless of their ethnicity or their religion, their country of origin or the color of their skin. My mother was a very strong influence on me in that way.”

So when three families who came to Concord from African refugee camps found hate-filled graffiti written on their homes in September 2011, Field, who had just retired from the Red Cross, knew what she was going to do as the final project for that photography program she had just started.

“I’ve got a pretty strong social activism, humanist streak in me. There were so many discussions going on about the difficulties of finding the resources to support these people, and I was thinking, wait a minute. There’s another part to this story. It’s not just about, do we have the resources to support these people, but I think it’s also who are these people? Who are we talking about?”

The breakfast is sponsored by the city’s new Area Task Force Against Racism and Intolerance.

“Concord intends to be a welcoming community, and I think that is the reality,” said Tim Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce. “The majority of the people in Concord are really good, have provided for the needs of others and been generous doing so.”

Sink said Field’s work is being featured today because it provides a visual complement to the breakfast’s theme of “Concord: One community, many faces.”

“As we look at the refugee and new immigrants populations that have come to the community, Becky has established relationships with these people, gained their trust, and taken really terrific photographs of family events, the transitions, their day-to-day lives and their celebrations.”

Over the past year and a half, Field has taken 19,000 photographs of families from across the state. Her program at the Institute of Art ends after the fall semester next year, at which time she plans to hold an exhibit across the state.

“When I came across this idea and started taking photographs and connecting with people in the community, I had such a feeling that this was the right thing for me to be doing, I could hardly sleep at night I was so excited. I work harder at this than I’ve ever worked,” Field said recently in her home studio.

Her office studio walls are covered in photos of immigrants and refugees. An elderly Bhutanese woman laughs at the camera from a garden field. A South Sudanese child looks over the shoulder of an adult. A Bosnian woman and girl pose in traditional pink dresses and head scarves.

The amount of raw images she’s gathered doesn’t surprise Field, she said.

“A lot of people, a lot of native New Hampshire-ites, told me when I started that any project involving New Hampshire diversity would be over in minutes,” she said. “They joked about this. They thought it was funny. I didn’t think that was the case but I wasn’t really sure. What surprised me was how incredibly diverse we are, how much color there is.

“I’m not telling their stories in this talk, that’s for them to do. I’m telling my story about the amazing experiences I have had in terms of, the color, the adventures, the welcoming into their lives, and this is all going on right under our nose.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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