Sunday, August 16, 2015

Masters Project Update...

Since finishing my coursework at MU, I started working on my master's project. It is moving a little slower than I originally anticipated (I'm sure to the chagrin of my committee), but I feel like it is progressing. Brief explanation of the project: when I started grad school, I was looking around for topics and stories that I found interesting and that could turn into a larger project. I originally wanted to work off the topic of disappearing small towns in the Midwest, but while researching, I found more than a few articles about how Latino populations were migrating into small towns across the Midwest had how this migration had saved the areas from becoming ghost towns.

With much of my work in the past dealing with border issues or topics in Latin America, my interest  peaked. I dug around and found Milan, a city of a little over 1,800 people. The city's demographic make up has shifted in the past decade and what once was a predominantly Anglo town had become almost split down the middle, with Latinos and Hispanics reaching a little over 40% of the town's demographic make up since the last census.

Most of the families and individuals moved there to work at Farmland, a meat processing plant. Others started small businesses and while one member of a family was at the plant, the others might be baking or taking other odd jobs.

The population shift has had a profound effect on the schools, with more Latino and Hispanic teachers being hired and more bilingual classes being taught to cater to the changing population.

Many of my images and contacts thus far have been through St. Mary's Catholic church in Milan. Deacon John Weaver has been amazingly helpful introducing me to a few families and letting me haunt the Spanish-speaking services on Saturday afternoons. I've spent most of my time with two families, the Chinchilla family and the Osorio family. Each family, like all families, have different dynamics and personalities. Even while being a "fly on the wall" both families have made me feel welcome, and I am grateful for that.

I had to take a break recently to move with my wife to Austin, Texas, where she started work with the National Center for Farmworker Health. I paused the shooting side of my project a bit and slowed working on my written research, as I set up my freelance business.

The project - I think - is at a mid-point. I feel I have a lot left to shoot and explore, with a planned trip in September back to Milan to see if I can fill those gaps and get things finished.

I'm positive my committee will be happy knowing they will soon see a finished project, research papers and all, allowing them to sign off and get rid of me. Haha.

All joking aside this project has been pretty stressful at times. Any photographer knows that breaking into a closed community of people can be difficult, and this community is no different.

I'm looking forward to September and getting back to Milan.

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