Article by Sherehe Hollins
American Dreamers, a one-day pop up photographic exhibition at Thumbprint Gallery, created and curated by photographer Garvin Ha, documented the stories of skilled laborers’ in pursuit of their dreams, in order to give voice to the experiences of common people whose stories oftentimes go unheard. Ha, a San Diego native who has worked as a commercial photographer for six years, remarked, “I always shoot models, skateboarders and people who shine all of the time. (American Dreamers) is the shine for the common man.”
The inspiration for the exhibit came from the idea of documenting everyday people, under the age of 30, who have pride and passion for a field of work that is oftentimes labeled, menial, degrading, and undesirable. Ha believes this perception has led to a widening generation gap within the skilled labor workforce. While “there is a younger generation of people caught up in the glamour of trying to get rich quick,” American Dreamers showed that there is also a younger generation making economic strides as skilled laborers.
After searching for his subjects through Yelp, The Yellow Pages, and personal referrals, Ha found five San Diego natives, who for one year shared their personal and professional life experiences. Among them: a dishwasher turned head chef, a gardener who now owns his landscaping business, a former window washer, who now owns the company, a female barber, and an apprentice turned foreman. American Dreamers revealed the honor and opportunity that exists within the field of skilled labor.
Ha took a handcrafted fine art approach, using acrylic, to present the exhibit. The photographic images were mounted on an 11 by 11 foot panel of distressed wood. They were presented in this way to show the parallel between how people can become distressed in the process of working towards realizing their dreams. The exhibition was shown on Friday August 29th at the Til Two Club on El Cajon Boulevard. Ha selected the neighborhood dive bar to display American Dreamers because he felt it was important the images be seen in a venue, “common to the working man.”
Throughout the night patrons crowded around the images, accenting the wall between the bar and the pool table, to engage with Ha’s work, which was his first solo exhibit. Ha affirmed there are countless stories of individuals striving to attain their dreams. To address this theme, the final image on the wall was an eight by ten inch mirror. The mirror reflected the viewer’s portrait and personal story back to them in hopes that by doing so they would be inspired to recognize their dreams and let their stories be told.