NEW YORK FOLKLORE
Vol. 4, Nos. 1-4, 1978
PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION OF
A POLISH-AMERICAN COMMUNITY
Peter Hartman and Marc Tull
We began our urban field work as strangers to Utica and its
Polish-American community. Since all of our previous work had
involved rural people and settings, the urban environment presented
new problems for meeting people who would be willing to
share their perspective on community life with us. Since we
wanted to understand the Polish-American community, but did
not know the first questions to ask, as a starting point we had to
work out strategies for meeting people and explaining the scope of
our research to them.
During a discussion of photography it occurred to us that
people are always interested in pictures that are familiar to them.
All people like to look at photographs of themselves and the
places they know, and most people will talk freely of the associations
that pictures evoke. This thought evolved into the idea of a
photo essay on the Polish-American community. Defining “Polish-
American community” as existing in the neighborhoods of East
and West Utica and New York Mills, we decided to make a record
of these areas as they look now. We planned to use the photographs
as “triggers” during interviews with neighborhood residents.
People, we predicted, would look at the photographs, talk
about familiar places and people, and discuss what these images
evoked for them. Through this free-flowing process of association
we hoped to learn more about activities and places important to
Polish-American life. This was also a relaxed approach and a
chance to establish rapport and explain the purpose of our project.
We built our collection of images around the life cycle of a
person growing up in the Polish-American community of Utica or
New York Mills. We photographed public places associated with
different phases of life. We picked places where people are born,
baptized, go to school, work, and attend social events, and even
where they are buried.
We had no organized way of selecting informants. Rather, we
depended on one informant to lead us to the next. Informants
tended to recommend friends and acquaintances with the same
social background as themselves. For this reason all of the informants
were between the ages of forty and sixty, Catholic, and
considered respectable by community standards....
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