Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to international news is aware of the Syrian refugee crisis. Rarely a day goes by without news and photos depicting individuals and families taking desperate measures to survive and rebuild their lives in Europe. The current refugee crisis evokes memories of the post-WWII refugee crisis where, again, millions of destitute people without a homeland sought a safe haven.
Thanks to the Displaced Persons Act, my mother and grandmother arrived in the US in 1951 after living in European refugee camps for 10 years. Relatives who had the means to leave Latvia were scattered across several countries. After settling in Wisconsin, my grandmother resumed contact with her closest relatives still in Europe. Over the years correspondence accumulated. These letters, punctuated with photos, were instrumental to the mooring of our family to the rest of our Latvian relatives dispersed across the globe. With the passage of time and the recounting of many a story, my identity and values were married to those of my distant relatives.
In my work, Altars, I use family photos in still life studies as a way to look back on the impact of those largely unknown relatives. It is my intention to pay homage and question narrative recited over the years. It is with the gaze of an adult that I pay homage to individuals who displayed strength and love despite their profound losses and foibles. I continue to receive their gifts with gratitude.
Cynthia Johnston is a Boston-based fine arts photographer with an interest in documentary projects. Her interest in art started in early childhood and continued through college where she studied painting and drawing. Concerned with making a livelihood, she changed her major studies to molecular and cellular biology to obtain a BS degree is from University of Wisconsin.
Boston, being the biotechnology hub that it is, lured her to the Northeast where she worked in cutting- edge laboratories. Fast forward 20 years, she left biotechnology to follow her partner to Montréal. It was there that her love for art was rekindled. She found a creative home in the photography classes at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts de Saidye Bronfman and greatly appreciated the creative openness of the Montréal cultural scene.
Since moving back to New England in 2007, she has taken many courses at NESOP. Workshops with Ernesto Bazan and Jeff Jacobson were very pivotal in her photographic approach to the documentary project. She is currently a participant of the lauded “Atelier” course at Griffin Photography Museum.
Johnston’s work is included in corporate and private collections in the US, Canada and Germany. She has recently exhibited work at the Danforth Museum. She is currently working on a documentary project, “Notice: Mill Closed” which explores the traces of human relationships once a multi-generational place of employment closes.
Contact Cynthia Johnston