100 Words: In Clarkston, Ga., A Modern-Day Ellis Island

May 24, 2012
Originally published on May 24, 2012 12:09 pm

100 Words is a series in which photographers describe their work, in their own words. Curated by Graham Letorney.

Arbai Barre Abdi was one of nearly 13,000 Somali Bantu refugees who were resettled throughout the U.S. beginning in 2004. I met Arbai that same year, when she and her four children were placed in Clarkston, Ga., directly from a refugee camp in Kenya. It is estimated that 1 in 3 of Clarkston's residents is an immigrant, and more than 60 languages are now spoken in this small Southern town.

This series of portraits began in 2006, when I started using my 4x5 camera to document Arbai's growing family on my weekly visits. For the past six years, I have had the privilege of bearing witness to their overwhelming spirit as they assimilate to American life, while still preserving the traditions of their culture.

Bryan Meltz is a documentary photographer based in Atlanta, Ga. From 2004 to 2006, Meltz worked on a PBS documentary chronicling the lives of several Somali Bantu refugees from Africa to America. This led to her current long-term project on refugee resettlement in Clarkston, Ga. You can see Bryan's work on her website and on FotoVisura.

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