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TO MAY 30
Photographic depictions of immigrant workers too often fall into an easy formula, the stock in trade of Dorothea Lange and her followers: quiet dignity amid humiliating poverty and deplorable working conditions. But when the cameras are put into the hands of workers themselves, a different take emergesa take that often has little to do with their job descriptions. The workplace photos in “UnseenAmerica”a joint project of the Service Employees International Union, the Bread and Roses Cultural Project, and the U.S. Department of Laboroffer more pride, less dejection: Li Wen Zun’s Cutter, for example, depicts a clothing worker expertly slicing bolts of fabric; Marva Stennetts focuses on a charming detailher untitled photo shows a co-worker’s intricate manicure, perched over a plain computer keyboard. But most of the works focus on the social life of the workplace. Luis Bernal’s Who We Are (pictured) shows a Latino couple sweetly dancing in a kitchen. A pair of photosTeresa Capriglione’s Arrival and the anonymous What I Planteddepict two men, one young and Latino, one old and Italian, in their modest gardens. No clichés here, just refreshingly candid insight into what these workers value about their lives. A quote from photographer Samuel Contreras that appears with his photo, Second Souls, sums up the heart of the show: “A lot of people assume you are what your job is….They don’t realize there’s an artful soul to everybody.” “UnseenAmerica” is on view from 6:45 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. Monday to Friday, to Friday, May 30, at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Great Hall, 200 Constitution Ave. NW. Free. (202) 693-6035. (Mike DeBonis)