CITY OF CHAMPIONS
American cities don’t die; they change. Global forces push and pull – industries move and take their jobs with them, economies shift focus, wars around the globe drive people from their homes – and our hometowns struggle to keep their balance.
This work is a study of my own hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts. Brockton is a place, with a many-layered history and deeply felt pride, that is undergoing its own transformative change. Through photography, I am trying to understand the city as a living organism, to reflect this dynamic process, and to evoke the emotional charge behind it all.
In Brockton, a landscape that was once enlivened by shoe factories now fades and crumbles. Old timers remember proud moments in their self-nicknamed “City of Champions” – native boxing champ Rocky Marciano at his homecoming parade! – and feel resentment, anger at their city’s decline. Many have moved out: the neighborhoods built by the last century’s immigrants – Italian, Irish, Lithuanian, Greek – are pocked with foreclosure, violence, and crime.
But immigrants are still coming! Compared to the ravages of Haiti or the wars of Guinea-Bissau, Brockton is a relatively safe place to plant one’s self, to nurture seedlings of progress and hope. Like grass growing up from a crack in the sidewalk, new life finds a way, its roots get established.
Radical things happen: a bright Cape Verdean restaurant sprouts on a dark corner; an empty shoe factory becomes a Haitian church; the first elected black official – the first ever in the city’s history – takes office.
With photographs, I am trying to chart this complex moment, as decay and rebirth wrestle on a landscape that I love. From the Irish politicians desperate to hang on to control, to the fading middle class I knew as a child, to the newcomers uncertain in their new home – I am trying to reflect the struggle in Brockton in a way that is real, deep, and intimate.
MARY BETH MEEHAN is an American photographer whose work deals with immigration, culture, and community. Her goal is to create a connection with the people of those communities, whose identities are often obscured by economics, politics, or race.
Meehan’s work has been exhibited internationally and published widely, including in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and the Washington Post, has been honored by Pictures of the Year International and The National Conference for Community and Justice, and was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize.
Her current series entitled City of Champions: A Portrait of Brockton, responds to her changing, post-industrial hometown in the New England state of Massachusetts. A portfolio of those images was recently selected by Juror Larry Fink as the winner of Project Basho’s Onward ’11 competition, and traveled to Tokyo, Japan. That work has received financial support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and has recently won a grant from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities to be installed as a large-scale public banner project in downtown Brockton.
Meehan teaches Documentary Photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and is director of the Documenting Cultural Communities program at the International Charter School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Visit Meehan’s website to view more of her work.