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Meet the photographer behind the Dayton Immigrant Portrait Project

Dayton has long been considered an immigrant-friendly community. 

In the mid-1990s, Dayton helped end the Bosnian War with peace talks. In 2010, then-Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell met with a Turkish Native by the name of Islom Shakhbandarov, and from their conversations, the Welcome Dayton initiative was born.

>> 9 ways Dayton welcomes immigrants

In 2017, local photographer Briana Snyder -- co-owner of Knack Creative -- decided to turn the lens on immigrants in the Dayton community. 

>> PHOTOS: See these stunning portraits of Dayton immigrants

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We asked her some questions about her project, and here’s what she had to say.

Your Dayton Immigrant Portrait Project is directly tied to your work for your Master’s degree. Can you talk more about it?

I wanted to find a way to combine my passions for international politics and the Dayton community. I knew that Welcome Dayton has existed as a City initiative for about 5 years, and was curious to research what successes the program has had in the time. Especially in light of the extremely polarized political climate around the issue of immigration, I thought it would be a fascinating topic to dig into. 

Local photographer and business owner (Briana Snyder)'s Dayton Immigrant Portrait Project seeks to do one thing: "I wanted to find a way to combine my passions for international politics and the Dayton community," she said. "I knew that Welcome Dayton has existed as a City initiative for about 5 years, and was curious to research what successes the program has had in the time. Especially in light of the extremely polarized political climate around the issue of immigration, I thought it would be a fascinating topic to dig into." PHOTO / (Briana Snyder) (Briana Snyder)

Where did you get the inspiration to create portraits of Dayton immigrants?

As a photographer, I always wanted to find a way to incorporate some visual component into my written project. And, as I was interviewing government officials, activists and other community stakeholders for my project, I wanted to find a way to include the perspectives of immigrants/refugees from the wider community. A ‘Humans of NY’-style photo project seemed like a great way to do both of those things.

You talked about interviews you’ve conducted with Melissa Bertolo, Welcome Dayton’s program coordinator. Can you tell us more about Welcome Dayton, and what drew you to it?

I don’t think many Daytonians know how exceptional Welcome Dayton is! The plan was one of the first of these types of plans adopted in the country and has served as the model for many other cities who have wanted to establish themselves as welcoming communities. It was an exceptionally organic process, led by community members and organizations who were passionate about this issue and then adopted by the City. More information/an interview with Melissa from Welcoming America is here.

Local photographer and business owner (Briana Snyder)'s Dayton Immigrant Portrait Project seeks to do one thing: "I wanted to find a way to combine my passions for international politics and the Dayton community," she said. "I knew that Welcome Dayton has existed as a City initiative for about 5 years, and was curious to research what successes the program has had in the time. Especially in light of the extremely polarized political climate around the issue of immigration, I thought it would be a fascinating topic to dig into." PHOTO / (Briana Snyder) (Briana Snyder)

What’s one of the most stunning things you’ve learned from Dayton immigrants, or about the immigrant experience in Dayton?

Immigrants who first move from their home country to other cities across the United States know of Dayton to be a welcoming community, so our city has been a destination for them to move to. 

Several people mentioned that there has been a heightened sense of concern following the 2016 election, since there is such uncertainty about what the Trump administration will do in regards to immigration policy. Despite the hyper-partisan rhetoric and uncertainty, though, they have told me that Dayton does feel exceptionally open and embracing of diversity and difference compared to other communities they have experienced, and they are glad to call Dayton home. 

Local photographer and business owner (Briana Snyder)'s Dayton Immigrant Portrait Project seeks to do one thing: "I wanted to find a way to combine my passions for international politics and the Dayton community," she said. "I knew that Welcome Dayton has existed as a City initiative for about 5 years, and was curious to research what successes the program has had in the time. Especially in light of the extremely polarized political climate around the issue of immigration, I thought it would be a fascinating topic to dig into." PHOTO / (Briana Snyder) (Briana Snyder)

Can you tell me more about the upcoming Welcome Dayton fundraiser?

Part of the initial idea for this project was to be able to display the images at the One City. Many People, Many Voices fundraiser event Thursday. We plan to display some (of the portraits) there, but then continue the project indefinitely. 

I’d love to include as many diverse experiences and voices possible, especially to include individuals who aren’t already connected to Welcome Dayton. Anyone interested in being involved can email hello@knackforsubstance.com, and we can schedule a portrait session.

>> See more photos from the Dayton Immigrant Portrait Project here

Want to go?

WHAT: One City. Many People, Many Voices

WHEN: 5:30-8 p.m. Thursday, May 11

WHERE: Montgomery County Fair & Fairgrounds, 1043 S. Main St., Dayton

COST: $100/ticket; buy tickets here

INFO: www.welcomedayton.org

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