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New York Folklore Vol. 4. Nos. 1-4, 1978
Utica Project Issue
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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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