Unseen America is a project that gives cameras to working people, allows them to work with each other and a professional photographer, and asks them to go out and document their lives. The images the workers produce convey to us what is important to them. Unseen America makes working people the creative subject of the images rather than the passive object of a professional photographer’s lens. Their images reveal lives and a humanity and creativity almost completely hidden in America.
Unseen America involves groups of workers in more than a dozen industries, from Chinatown garment workers to building doormen and porters, hospital workers, and suburban day laborers. The overall project is coordinated by Esther Cohen.
The Center for Study of Working Class Life was an early sponsor of a segment of Unseen America, featuring the creative work of immigrant Latino laborers on Long Island. These workers, associated with the Workplace Project, took pictures for ten months beginning in October, 2000. Photographers Matthew Septimus and Jim Cassidy worked with them and they had regular access to the Art Department darkroom at SUNY Stony Brook. The resulting exhibit was displayed on the Stony Brook campus from October to December 2001 and has since toured on Long Island and as part of Unseen America exhibits nation-wide.