Ruth Kaplan

Ruth Kaplan is a Canadian documentary photographer, recipient of numerous awards and teaches photography in Toronto. I first came across her work while trying to find photographers who had done any work on immigration.

She has done a series called Status Pending on refugee migrants, specifically the living conditions when they come to their new country. Status Pending seems to have been shot on two locations: one in Detroit and the other in Buffalo. The images consist of the interior of the boarding houses where the immigrants are being housed temporarily. Bland views can be seen from the windows, which are covered in mismatched curtains. Treasured objects brought with by the immigrants are photographed along with children’s toys. Suitcases dominate the landscape. Dormitories and beds with makeshift bedding and graffiti scribbled walls, half painted ceilings drive home the message that this is a place for the transients.

Its a powerful series driving home the message that refugees do not have an easy time once they are relocated to new countries.

Reference List

Ruth Kaplan. Status Pending [online]. Available from: http://www.ruthkaplanphoto.com/status-pending-1/ [Accessed 13 November, 2015]


Re-Write After Tutor Feedback in Assignment 3

Ruth Kaplan is a Canadian documentary photographer, recipient of numerous awards and teaches photography in Toronto. I first came across her work while trying to find photographers who had done any work on immigration.

© Ruth Kaplan: Freedom House, Detroit
© Ruth Kaplan: Freedom House, Detroit

She has done a series called Status Pending on refugee migrants, specifically the living conditions when they come to their new country and await processing. Status Pending seems to have been shot on two locations: one in Detroit and the other in Buffalo. The images consist of the interior of the boarding houses where the immigrants are being housed temporarily. Bland views can be seen from the windows, which are covered in mismatched curtains. Treasured objects brought with by the immigrants are photographed along with children’s toys. Suitcases dominate the landscape. Dormitories and beds with makeshift bedding and graffiti scribbled walls, half painted ceilings drive home the message that this is a place for the transients. The lodgings are stark and have no soul: there is no feeling of warmth and family at all, rather there is one of institutionalisation.

An image of a child’s bunk bed (above) with its mismatched linens sends mixed messages to us. The old fashioned striped sheets and pillow cases give off an air of regimentality, while the comforter, criss-crossed with hearts and diamonds in bright colours add a touch of gaiety and love to the image. The two fluffy bears (one white, with a large pink bow, the other pink) lying next to the comforter, give us a further clue as to the occupant of this bed – a little girl. The white bear is in good condition so we can assume it is a present the little girl might have received upon entering the lodgings.

“I was interested in the idea where you’re in limbo,” Kaplan explained. “Where your life is no longer here or there. Time is stretched out. You have no money. You can’t go anywhere. Your past is known and your future is unknown.”

Ruth Kaplan, TheStar.com

However, for me the punctum of the image is the chipped away paint of the wall revealing a blue undercoat next to the pillow. Was this done by the little girl or some previous occupant of that bed? I can imagine the occupant lying on the bed, facing the wall, picking away at a small crack in the paint out of boredom, gradually peeling away the layer, making it bigger to reveal yet another layer of paint, in a similar fashion to that of the refugee immigration process. One flees a country, finds  a safe haven, is housed in temporary shelter while the application is processed and this process can take quite a long time. If successful one is then allowed to enter society, find a permanent dwelling and job and begin one’s life afresh.

We live our lives in ‘layers’: first comes childhood, the teenage years, followed by our university or college years, then our first initial years in the real working world, marriage, child-bearing and rearing years, retirement and finally death. The act of immigration can and does suspend some of these ‘layers’ by putting them on hold. One is constantly waiting for something to happen. The act of peeling back layers is a metaphor for trying to find one’s place in the new world.

Kaplan’s powerful series drives home the message that refugees do not have an easy time once they are relocated to new countries.

Reference List

Ruth Kaplan. Status Pending [online]. Available from: http://www.ruthkaplanphoto.com/status-pending-1/ [Accessed 13 November, 2015]

Black, Debra (2013). Photo/video exhibit ‘Here and There’ explores what it means to be an immigrant [online] TheStar.com. Available from: http://www.thestar.com/news/immigration/2013/04/26/photovideo_exhibit_here_and_there_explores_what_it_means_to_be_an_immigrant.html [Accessed 14 December, 2015]

Re-write done 14 December, 2015

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