PATERSON, NJ – Although the Paterson Museum remains temporarily closed due to COVID-19, you can still visit from the comfort and safety of home. 

Originally set to debut in May, “Seeking Refuge: Images of those Displaced by War, Poverty and Persecution,” an exhibit by award winning multimedia journalist Thomas E. Franklin, was put on hold due to the pandemic. 

But after looking into virtual options, Franklin put his entire display online for all to view. The seven photo essays contain images, and in some cases, video clips, shot over the past six years in places such as Mexico, Greece and Paterson.

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The exhibit, Franklin wrote in an introduction, depicts “the experiences of many who are currently displaced and sheds light on the highly complex circumstances surrounding global migration.”

“With this project I wanted to make a connection between what was happening with the migrant caravans and Central Americans trying to get to the US border, with what was happening with refugees from the Middle East in countries like Syria trying to get to the European Union,” he said. 

“We are currently living in one of the largest mass migrations of refugees in our world’s history. Prior to the COVID-19, this story was getting headlines, and now you don't hear anything about it. It's amazing how the news cycle focuses on very few stories at one time. But it's still happening,” he said.

Franklin was drawn to the issues of immigration and human migration after seeing an image back in 2015 of a lifeless 3-year-old Syrian boy named Aylan Kurdi, whose body washed up on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Kurdi and his family were refugees trying to flee to Europe.

After penning an editorial for VICE about the photograph, Franklin was inspired to explore forced migration further.

“I began with the crisis in Syria, because the brutal civil war was raging at the time, but also because locally here in New Jersey where I live there is a large and established Syrian community,” he wrote. “’All news is local,’ a news editor once told me, thus began the exploration of various topics related to forced migration and immigration, not just here in New Jersey, but to the U.S. southern border, to Central Mexico, and to Greece.”

Over the past few years, his work has included a story for NJ Spotlight on Syrian Refugees who have resettled in the Garden State, a short documentary film about a couple in Greece who was vilified because they were assisting refugees washing ashore near their beachfront home, and a video shot on the situation at the border wall in San Diego-Tijuana.

His photos and video were also published in the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Tribune.

“In each of these places, the vast majority of people I met said they would be willing to do whatever it takes to gain a better life for themselves and their families, no matter the risk because the place they left was far worse,” said Franklin.

One of his collections, “Assimilation,” documents Paterson’s Arab-American community and how it has contributed to politics and culture. The images were shot between 2016 and 2020, according to Franklin.

“I have always found Paterson to be a fascinating place. I have covered many stories over the years there,” said Franklin, who began in the news business in 1988 at the former North Jersey Herald and News. 

He then worked at The Bergen Record and now is a freelance journalist currently on a six-year tenure track professorship at Montclair State University. He is best known for his photograph of firefighters raising the American flag at the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“Paterson is one of my favorite places in the world,” he said. “I love the city. Its culture, its diversity, its rich history and all its considerable changes make it a very fascinating place. One of which I very much enjoy making pictures.”

Last year, Franklin worked with a Lebanese-Britsh journalist on a piece about food and culture in South Paterson’s Middle Eastern neighborhood and in 2019, he did a story for NJ Spotlight on Hinchliffe Stadium

“I’m very excited about the possibility of the stadium being renovated and put back into use,” he said. “It has an incredible and important history. I hope the city can get it done.”

“I also spent some time shadowing Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, I have known him for 20 years. He himself is a first-gen immigrant whose parents immigrated from Lebanon and Syria, is a great success story. I also spent a lot of time covering Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed T. Khairullah, who embodies the American dream. He came to this country from Syria when he was young and now is as a successful elected official. These types of human interest subjects are among my favorites,” Franklin said. 

“Seeking Refuge: Images of those Displaced by War, Poverty and Persecution” is Franklin’s first-ever exhibit at the Paterson Museum. The collection was physically displayed last year at Blair Academy Gallery in Blairstown.

“We are still holding out hope that a physical exhibit can happen sometime this year [at Paterson Museum]. It will depend on the virus,” he said. 

Click here to access each photo essay –

  • Greece (“Seeking Asylum In The E.U.: Refugees Flee War-Torn Syria”) 
  • Mexico (“Coming To The U.S.: Migrants Make Grueling Journey North”) 
  • Mexico (“The Border: Migrants Entering The U.S. Face Many Obstacles”) 
  • Mexico (“Angels At The Border: Volunteer Groups Offer Much Needed Assistance)
  • New Jersey (“Resettling In The U.S.: Syrians Build New Life With Help From Unexpected Friends”)  
  • New Jersey (“Protest And Backlash: Rallying For Immigrant’s Rights”)
  • Paterson (“Assimilation”) 

 

Franklin said he hopes his work helps “draw attention to this massive global crisis of displaced people.”

“It’s the largest of its kind since World War II,” he said. “I want my photographs to get people’s attention, to get them thinking about why people choose to leave their home.”

“They choose to leave their home, because life there is so unbearable, for reasons such as extreme poverty, politics, economic and social turmoil, safety for their families, to escape the pressures of having to join criminal gangs. People become desperate and they seek opportunity in places the perceive to be better - like Europe and the United States,” he said.

In a press release announcing the exhibit’s opening, the museum said, “The situation of refugees has been a much-debated topic in recent years, both within the United States and internationally. As a city with a strong history of diversity among its inhabitants, Paterson and its citizens have an opportunity to partake in the discussion.”

 

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