UTICA — One person looks at a woman with a child and thinks “mom.”
But that “mom” could very well be a welder. A farmer. A colonel in the U.S. Air Force.
Looks are not everything, but a lot could be perceived from someone’s physical appearance.
A book series out of the Mohawk Valley Community College called “Faces of the Mohawk Valley” is attempting to describe how certain people identify themselves.
It started with a display from the photography department in fall 2012: Documenting different facets of diversity found in the city of Utica and the rest of the Mohawk Valley. An exhibition showed off people’s ethic, religious and gender identities.
But several college officials, faculty and students collaborated on a project that expanded upon the idea of the single exhibit.
Ronald Labuz, a 60-year-old MVCC professor of art and art coordinator in the Center of Arts & Humanities, had a background in book publishing and was brought on board. His counterpart: a 17-year-old Whitesboro High School student intern Brigitta Field, who Labuz said it was “all her decision” to make reading the book a learning experience.
The art included in the book, 90 percent photos and 10 percent other media, asks viewers to make their own assessments of the subjects: How do you think this person identify themselves? In the back of the book, an index dictates how the subject sees themselves.
“You may think this person is Hispanic, but they’re not. You may see a person who looks Asian in the book, but she’s really and Inuit Indian,” Labuz said. “It’s an exercise in how we see people and sometimes even how we stereotype.”
Instead of stopping at the one book, the series is branching off into different groups for which a book will be produced: Women, families and the like. The former category is 2014’s project, Labuz said, and will be photographed mainly by female photography students.
“This project has been an attempt to strengthen confidence in our students, as well as allowing them to develop relationships with their subjects,” he said.