Every once in a while I get a chance to really relish a story topic by spending a significant amount of time reporting and researching it. That was the case with photographer Joel Pickford’s impressive exhibit “Soul Calling: A Photographic Journey Through the Hmong Diaspora.” I was able in my Sunday Spotlight centerpiece column to devote a big chunk of text to this important show at the Fresno Art Museum, which took eight years (and more than 50,000 images) for Pickford to put together. In my column I write:
In Pickford’s remarkable project, which started as an in-depth ethnographic look at recent Hmong arrivals to the Central Valley and later expanded into repeated trips to Laos itself, you get a glimpse of profound generational changes as members of the Hmong Diaspora have settled into their adopted culture. And you get a feel for the fascinating and stalwart country they left behind …For a year, he focused exclusively on these recent arrivals, who were basically arriving unprepared for a new country years after earlier refugees had already made lives for themselves. He made memorable images: A young boy with no toys scrapes in the dirt in front of a tired, unlandscaped apartment complex. A man sits with his two wives on a couch as a relative watches TV in the background. A young pregnant woman stands in front of a mirror as she struggles into her too-tight Hmong New Year dress.
We were able to use three of Pickford’s photos in the print edition, which I’ve included on the jump. For more, check out this online photo gallery from the project. And make plans to visit the Fresno Art Museum to view the exhibition, along with “Threads of Life: The Art of Houa Vang,” an exhibition of story cloths and decorative clothing from a prominent local Hmong-American artist. The shows run through Jan. 6.