In his series Working America, native Californian photographer Sam Comen captivates with slow-motion video portraiture of immigrants and first-generation Americans, capturing the beating heart of America’s working class in his images. This July, Comen’s portraits and his accompanying interviews with his subjects, are featured in Grand Park as one of five immersive installations entitled Portraits of Freedom: Building a Life in L.A. The installations were chosen as celebrations of the values represented by America’s Independence Day: individuality, community, freedom, diversity.
“[Grand Park] is a great home for the work,” says Comen. “It’s the closest Los Angeles has to a Central Park, and it’s the heart of the civic center. Immigrants and the immigrant experience are so core to the fabric of Los Angeles. Bringing these skilled craftspeople and everyday men and women and their stories and putting them, literally larger than life, into this civic plaza feels like a good alignment.”
Starting July 12, Comen will invite several of his subjects—all with disparate stories, struggles, and successes—to the installation to speak to the public about their participation in the project. First-generation Mexican-American Jesus Sera, whose portrait by Comen was a second-prize winner in a Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery competition in 2019, will attend. So will a film and television electrician named Hisham, who spoke in his interview with Comen about “the polarization of society in the last few years and his fears as they relate to not only him being a person of color but also his young son.”
Comen initially found himself interested in the immigrant identity in American because of his great grandparents, Jewish European immigrants. “Not long after arriving in the U.S., my great-grandparents did garment piecework and sold sewing supplies,” he writes in his project statement. “It’s with my great-grandparents in mind that I’ve come to question how, in light of recent anti-immigrant rhetoric stoking wide debate across the U.S., their story might still be relevant today.”
The free installation runs through July 31, and Grand Park is open to visitors between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. The moving full-length portraits of Comen’s subjects play on life-sized screens at the fountain overlook in the park, making for a brilliant and striking exhibit, especially illuminated against the night sky.
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