Photographer Mark Chester travels the world without leaving the state. His book and traveling exhibition capture 45 foreign-born residents who are U.S. citizens representing 50 countries.Photography and text by Mark Chester
As a youngster, I had a penchant to discover new places and meet new people. National Geographic magazines were my guides. I could have been a travel agent! Instead, I became a travel photographer.
For 40 years, I explored countries in Asia, Europe, South America and the South Pacific, photographing cultural landscapes—people, places and things that have touched me in some emotional, intellectual or whimsical way.
As a year-round Cape Cod resident since 2002, I have come full circle in the past four years—traveling the world without leaving the state. To date, I have photographed 350 men, women and families born in 170 countries in the Commonwealth. Here on the Cape, I have photographed 45 foreign-born residents who are naturalized U.S. citizens representing 50 countries. It is a personal project that celebrates cultural diversity in the Bay State.
The seed was planted in 1978 when I was assigned to photograph an essay by Charles Kuralt for his book, “Dateline America,” about Ellis Island, the country’s first federal immigration station that opened in 1892 and closed in 1954.
My latest project bloomed in 2010 when the U.S. Census was published and showed a large ethnic population in the state. Finding people living from Woods Hole to Provincetown was a journey in itself.
The first citizenship ceremony on the Cape was held at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, coordinated by the United States Citizenship Immigration Services in 2013. Only 25 applicants attended, which made it easy to maneuver and meet prospective candidates for the project. I also met participants at Cape Cod Community College’s annual multicultural festival, and at local restaurants and businesses. Participants also referred me to friends from other foreign countries.
I wanted the photographs to be personal, a reflection of the individual. We met in their home, workplace, or in a community location suggested by the individual. I gave little direction. Participants found their own comfort level and simply looked at the lens. It’s their photo, literally: Each person chose the picture they wanted in the book and exhibition.
Participants range in ages; they are professionals—the clergy, entrepreneurs and skilled laborers, retirees, artists, restaurant owners, physicians, musicians, hospitality workers. Unlike my candid street photography, this is a collection of informal, environmental portraits—a straightforward approach of individuals looking into the camera at you, the viewer.
In my book, the photo caption lists only the country of birth, name, year of birth, year of naturalization, and city of residence. I did not inquire about personal life or reason for being a U.S. citizen, unless the individual introduced the topic.
I discovered that regardless of our birth country, we are all connected by compassion and a curiosity about other cultures, geography and foods. I am grateful to all for giving permission to be photographed and to share their heritage.
Editor’s Note: The book, “The Bay State: A Multicultural Landscape, Photographs of New Americans,” is slated for a January publication date. A selection of photographs from the pending publication are on exhibit September and October at the Falmouth Museums on the Green, and in November at the Sturgis Library, Barnstable. The book will be released at the New Bedford Art Museum/Artworks, Jan. 20 –March 20. A selection of photographs is also included in the “Dreams of Freedom” exhibition at the Skywalk Observatory in Boston’s Prudential Building.
At a citizenship ceremony at the JFK Library and Museum in Dorchester, I saw both of these men dressed to the hilt in kilts. They did not know each other. After explaining my project,
I brought them together for this photograph.
Husband/wife owners and
cosmeticians of Amazing Nails
Network administrator at Cape Cod Community College
Teaches Mandarin at Falmouth High School
I met Ivan at the Seaport Trade Center citizenship ceremony, where nearly 3,000 applicants and their guests filled the room. I walked up and down the aisles, asking in a loud voice, “Anyone from Suriname? Who’s born in Suriname?” I felt like a train conductor collecting tickets. A woman raised her hand. She said her husband is receiving his certificate and walked me over to his seat to introduce me. I later photographed him at the Cape Cod Community Media Center, where he is director of operations.
Owner of Karoo Restaurant in North Eastham and Karoo Kafe in Provincetown
Owners of Pain D’Avignon café and boulangerie in Hyannis
Scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Host of a Spanish program at WKKL 90.7, broadcast from the radio station at Cape Cod Community College
Owner of Johnny’s Tune & Lube.
Photographed at a studio where he practices martial arts
Owner of The Jerk Café
I met Olive at the Town of Falmouth offices arranging for building permits. She talked with a lilt and a twinkle in her eye. Yes, she said, “I am from Ireland.”
Owner of Bleu, French Bistro in Mashpee Commons
A professor of mathematics, Negash told me he was riding his bike on an overcast, fall weekend day. I suggested we meet at the Craigville Beach parking lot, where the Barnacle Snack Bar beckoned as a surreal backdrop.
A special citizenship ceremony for only 25 applicants was held at the John F. Kennedy Museum in Hyannis, a first for this venue. I spotted Luis wearing his patriotic tie. His friend Patricia Anderson, who took him to the ceremony, accompanied him. We went to a back room in the museum to take photographs. Patricia emailed me later that year:
“As you know, it took him 30 years to become a citizen. He was so excited and we celebrated at a nearby Bistro. I do want to tell you that you made him feel so special that day. You added so much excitement to the day, signaling him out and taking pictures that he was so proud of and showed everyone. He even remembered that you told a woman who wanted to take pictures that this was a private session. He would tell everyone that the pictures were going into a professional book about immigration.”
Barber at Andy’s in Falmouth
Co-owner of Inaho, a Japanese restaurant