PHOTOGRAPHY: "Soul Calling: A Photographic Journey Through the Hmong Diaspora," by Joel Pickford.

  • Article by: FRED SETTERBERG , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 20, 2012 - 8:29 PM

"Soul Calling: A Photographic Journey Through the Hmong Diaspora," by Joel Pickford, captures the spirit and dignity of the Hmong.


A young Hmong woman dresses herself in traditional clothes for a Hmong New Year celebration in Fresno, Calif.

With a foreword by Twin Cities writer Kao Kalia Yang, Joel Pickford's stunning photo chronicle delves with precision and intimacy into the Hmong community of Fresno, Calif. Enlisted by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, though never officially recognized as American allies, the Hmong have endured over the past 40 years a ghostly passage from their homeland in Laos, through the refugee camps of Thailand, with many thousands finally landing in low-income government housing in the far West, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

In 162 stark, yet often beguiling color photos, Pickford presents the pathos and dignity of people struggling to establish new lives "in a nation whose history has never included them," while they cope with "the jarring fusion" of cultures that has proven a hallmark of much recent immigration. His text also stands as a disquisition on the power and challenges of documentary photography, and the depths that can be achieved over five years of intensive reporting.

We should be so lucky to see an equivalent project emerge from among the thousands of Guatemalans, Haitians, Afghans, Chinese, Somalis and others who have recently arrived on our shores with their own dreams and nightmares as they further complicate and enrich the American saga.

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  • SOUL CALLING, by Joel Pickford.


    By: Joel Pickford.

    Publisher: Heyday Books, 264 pages, $30.

    Review: Laboring in strawberry farms, sacrificing a pig outside an aging tract home in an elaborate ritual to call back an errant soul -- the Hmong struggle to reconcile ancient ways with modern America.

    Events: 5 p.m. Nov. 2, Concordia University, 275 N. Syndicate St., St. Paul; 2 p.m. Nov. 4, St. Paul Central Library, 90 W. 4th St., St. Paul; 4 p.m. Nov. 5, University of Minnesota Bookstore, Coffman Union, Mpls.; 7 p.m. Nov. 5, Mpls Photo Center, 2400 N. 2nd St., Mpls, $5-$10, free to members.

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