In 2011, photographer Mary Beth Meehan was working on a project titled Undocumented Immigrants: Putting a Face on Invisible Lives, which focused on the lives and living arrangements of undocumented immigrants in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. The project consisted of a series of photographs of the interiors of immigrants’ homes—bedrooms, kitchen tables, doorways, and living spaces—with an aim of humanizing and making visible people who, for legal and political reasons, must remain invisible.
Meehan received a 2010 Individual Research Mini Grant of $2,000 from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities to return to the homes of the people she had photographed and interview them about their experiences in Rhode Island, both as undocumented immigrants and as members of our community. Through working with scholars and translators, she developed essential interview questions and translated interviews into stories that accompanied, contextualized, and further humanized her exhibition online and at numerous venues including the Community College of Rhode Island’s Knight Gallery.
In each venue, the photographs and accompanying text on a charged subject matter elicited strong reactions and raised many questions with those who interacted with the work. They also stimulated spirited conversations about the nature of “documentation,” what it means and how it feels to be an “undocumented” immigrant in this country, and be a human being who is part of a community. Meehan reflected that, “This project is, ultimately, not about finding people who agree with us, but about generating conversations so we might evolve together, to a more human understanding of each other.”