February 19, 2019
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, Prachi’s students are telling an important story about Pittsburgh through a lesser-seen lens.
She worked with local refugee students to help them find their “photo voice” for an ACT Fellowship.
“Communication is a way to advocate for yourself,” she said. “Photography can be a way to share things that doesn't necessarily require English skills. I want the students to see that their voices and their photographs have a power, and people are interested in them.”
The students guided the project in an unexpected direction. Originally, Prachi wanted them to think about what they loved about Pittsburgh, and what might like to change about it, too. But they weren’t interested in critiquing the city.
“I have to reflect on my role as a researcher, and how what I say can impact the photographs or the captions,” she said. “I realized I didn't want to keep pushing my agenda to them. The question about what they liked about Pittsburgh inspired them.”
And what came out of that is pretty profound. For example, one student took a simple picture of a pillow with an illuminating caption.
“She said, ‘I really like this pillow because my teacher gave it to me and my teacher loves me,’ ” Prachi said. “Who hasn't had the experience of having a teacher they feel very close to? Or having an object that means something sentimental to them because someone gave it to them?”
It’s that relatability that makes the photos so compelling.
“Sometimes when we think of refugees, we think of people who are different from us. I think we’re all more similar than we like to think."
“Just being able to see this other side to them from their images is really powerful in a way that hopefully will be powerful to other people who come to see the exhibit.”