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Facing Ourselves

Patricia Houghton Clarke | California, United States

Facing Ourselves: Carpinteria
Juanita, Mexico/USA 2019
During the year of preparation and seeking to photograph all facets of the community of Carpinteria, in the end Juanita was the only undocumented person who wasn't fearful of being recorded. We initially agreed that I would only photograph her from behind, but after seeing the portraits in my studio she thanked me for the work we were doing, and told me I could photograph her face as well.

Her portrait hung proudly on the main street of the city. All grace, no fear.

The genesis of the Facing Ourselves Project was forged on the frontlines of the recent wave of Northern African, Western Asian, and the Middle Eastern refugees that crashed upon the shores of Western Europe. While other documentarians focused on the dramatic and politically charged journeys, Patricia Houghton Clarke returned to southern Italy in 2016 to quietly turn her camera upon recently arrived refugees and native-born locals as they welcomed the newcomers into their midst.

The ensuing portraits gently remind us that regardless of their respective histories and legacies, the subjects share the same hopes and desires, wishes and dreams we all have. They are not strangers we are coming face to face with, but rather, friends and neighbors; and that we are ultimately facing ourselves.

Now, the Facing Ourselves Project has grown to include a diverse collection of on-going community initiatives that confront the challenges, misunderstandings and stigma accompanying forced migration around the world.










As we move into more and more challenging times with worldwide migration at the forefront, we need to focus time and attention on merging cultures and how to create sustainable and humane communities for the future.

As an Artist in Residence in Martignano, Italy, 2011, I was humbled by the residents, the ancient rituals they observe, and the community’s profound appreciation for a simple life. Historically rich and diverse, the region has seen rule by Goths, Romans, Saracens, Lombards, Hungarians, Slavs, Normans, Sicilians and Greeks.

Many in the community are immigrants themselves and come from families of immigrants spanning many generations. What ignited the Facing Ourselves project was my discovery of a community that deeply understands what it means to be a stranger in a strange land; without support, language skills, or work. The “original” population’s tolerance for “other” comes from a place deep inside themselves, their families, and their history. They tell me: “We know what it’s like to carry a suitcase.”

Through my images and community interaction I  am seeking to represent the commonalities of human nature and personal dignity; to illustrate photographically the makeup of communities all over the world. Not only long-term residents, but also recent immigrant arrivals. I am especially interested in highlighting people who are gracefully welcoming and protecting their “new neighbors” into the fabric of their lives.  The portrait sittings, conversations and community organization create a “ripple effect” that goes far beyond the images and have generated a wide-ranging array of classes, workshops, initiatives, and other ways that people can express their desire to create compassionate communities. Facing Ourselves is now an international award-winning project, with communities represented in southern Italy, London, and central California. The next two portrait series are scheduled to take place in the fall of 2020 in a small farm town in rural Kansas and London, England. 

Alcazar Theater
Art Without Limits (AWOL)
Philos Associazione Culturale
Carpinteria Women’s Club
Indivisible Carpinteria
Lynda Fairly Carpinteria Arts Center
McCune Foundation
Natalie Orfalea Foundation
Parco Palmieri Philos Multiculturale
Rincon High School
Santa Barbara Foundation
Santa Barbara Public Library
Waging Peace UK

Patricia Houghton Clarke

410 Palm Avenue A 18

Carpinteria, CA 93013


805 452 7739

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