Glasshouse of New Americans

PhotographerJill Enfield
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

The 3-month solo installation, 6 galleries, leaves Ellis Island on September 4. Daughter of Holocaust survivors, Jill Enfield uses the old world wet collodion photographic technique of “New Americans” to remind us that convenience of current air travel does not deny that the path of immigration remains perilous, just as it was in steerage on a steamship in the 1800’s. Her portraits, of immigration individuals, arrived during the 1960s or after. The installation is a glass house, of transparent immigrant portraits placed onto antique windows, which observers can enter or view from the exterior. The 45 abandoned antique windows were collected from flea markets, construction sites and roadsides throughout the Hudson Valley. All windows were then assembled into a single house, the clear windows replaced with wet plate collodion portraits of the immigrants. The message, “People in glass houses should not throw stones. We are all immigrants.”


Whenever I view the vintage photographs of new immigrants to America from the 1800s and early 1900s, I am always drawn to how the individuals in the images must have felt. Why did they uproot themselves and undertake an arduous, often dangerous or even deadly journey across a vast ocean, to the unknown? What profound conditions drove them to leave their rooted, ancestral homes? Was there crying, pleading, threatening, severing of all ties? Would there be anyone waiting for them in the New World? A cousin, a friend? Maybe no one. No prospects were guaranteed. There was only desperate hope for a new start – a new life. It would be a strange and harsh world, with a new language, no one to depend on, no roots. These had to be courageous people, to arrive in a cold city undoubtedly nothing like they had imagined. The hosts of the nation were far from hospitable: Right on the docks were recruitment officers to enlist men into the Civil War, or work gangs, or sweatshops. With luck, some new immigrants might become a city worker, or get to live in the maid’s quarters of a hotel or a rich man’s house. But most would find themselves squeezed into squalid, disease-infested, “Old Law” tenements on teeming street on the Lower East Side. Back then, wet-collodion process was familiar enough that viewers of the age took it for granted, seldom curious of conditions of those pictured. An uncountable number of wet-collodion images were lost in a sea of other images, ignored by the general public of that era. Nobody of any import took time or interest. Now the reigning format, of course, is digital. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are digitally recorded and as equally overlooked as their ancestors were. And just as those immigrants of yesteryear were ignored or treated with disdain and suspicion, so, too, are the new Americans, who must also cope with fears of terrorism far worse than the public notions of mere “anarchists” back then. We make the same mistakes based on ignorance, and fail to perceive the potential of adventurous risk-takers who are more likely than most to transcend the odds and achieve something great. Today’s “New Americans,” have an easier physical journey by air than their predecessors did in steerage, but their risks are just as great, their fears just as valid. And with the current digital mode of photographic record, their faces are just as lost amid a sea of billions of pixels, their lives taken for granted. I use our public perception of the wet-plate collodion process to give these brave individuals a leg up in the New World. Maybe the newspapers articles about illegal immigrants stealing a dwindling supply of employment and tax dollars will bear less of a toll if the newcomers can be seen with the romance of the wet-plate collodion process. In each of my wet-plate collodion images, The New Americans are heroes, each with his or her own inspirational story.

About Photographer

Bio 2017 Jill Enfield is a fine art photographer, educator, curator and author and has been teaching photography for many years with a concentration on historical techniques and alternative processes. Her two books: Photo Imaging: A Complete Guide To Alternative Processes published by Amphoto, and, Jill Enfield’s Guide to Alternative Processes: Popular Historical and Contemporary Techniques published by Focal Press, are both award winning books and used in schools all over the world. Jill is working on her third book, which has a 2018 publication date by Focal Press - Routledge. Like the others, it will include step-by-step instructions on a variety of techniques including: wet plate collodion, dry plate modern tintypes, platinum and palladium printing, cyanotypes, liquid emulsion, albumen printing, hand painting and more. Jill’s work has also been chosen to be on book covers about these techniques and in magazines. Jill also has podcasts and videos that can be seen on YouTube and other areas of the web. She has shown her work throughout the USA and Europe and currently has a one-woman show in 6 galleries on Ellis Island called THE NEW AMERICANS, up from May through September 2017. A 3-minute video about the installation and the glass house made of old windows and portraits of recent immigrants can be seen by clicking on this link. Jill Enfield has been teaching for many years at Parsons The New School of Design, RISD, SUNY New Paltz, as well as workshops including ICP, Penland, Anderson Ranch, Nordphotographic, Maine Media Workshops, Photosynthesis, Palm Beach Photographic Workshops and Fotofusion, Horizons, Palm Springs Photo Workshops and others. Her work has appeared National Geographic Magazine, Life, American Heritage, American Photo, Communications Arts, PDN, Colonial Homes, NY Times Magazine and dozens of other publications in print and on line. Professional Photographer Magazine selected her as one of the 100 most influential photographers. Her commercial clients include, Kodak, Nikon, Bellagio Hotel, NY NY Hotel, Marriot, Sea World, Hershey Park, SC Johnson, Con Ed and more. Jill’s fine art images can be seen in many museums around the world as well as in private collections. Jill Enfield is the daughter of Holocaust survivors who owned camera stores in Frankfurt Germany and were helped to escape the Buchenwald death camp thanks to the courageous efforts of Ernst Leitz, the founder of Leica Cameras. In 1939 the family moved to Florida and opened up the first camera store in Miami Beach. Jill was born in Miami Beach, raised her two daughters in Manhattan and moved to the Hudson Valley, NY in 2014. Jill currently lives with her husband in a former stone gunpowder mill headquarters, which was built in 1828. She continues her pursuits in photography including teaching, her own work, as well as workshops in her home, which includes a state of the art darkroom with a capacity of 4 students. The workshops range from a single day to a week including over night accommodations in her 4-bedroom home.