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Bemidji native recognized for work in Green Card Stories

Shown is Ariana Lindquist's photograph of Farah Bala, an immigrant of India who moved to New York in 2001 and is now a critically acclaimed actor in the off-Broadway production "Tales from the Tunnel." The photograph was printed in the Green Card Stories. Photo copywright Ariana Lindquist. Submitted Photo1 / 2
Ariana Lindquist2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS - Bemidji native Ariana Lindquist, 40, a freelance photo journalist, took first place in the non-traditional photojournalism publishing category for the National Press Photographers Best of Photo Journalism Awards for her work for the book Green Card Stories.

"For me it is an important validation of the work," Lindquist said. "Mainly because I work as a photojournalist and am not a portrait photographer."

Green Card Stories is a book that illustrates immigration in America through the stories of 50 recent immigrants, each with permanent residence or citizenship. The book, written by nationally-recognized journalist Saundra Amrhein and photographed by Lindquist, has won five awards, including the NPPA Best of Photojournalism Award.

Lindquist said that like many photojournalism awards, the NPPA award is one that she applied for. She said applying for these types of awards is a way to get recognition for herself as a photojournalist as well as giving some attention to the book.

She has been a member of the NPPA since becoming a photojournalist. It is not her first award, as she took first place in 2009 for Best of Photojournalism for a sport audio slideshow.

Lindquist got involved with the Green Card Stories when Amrhein was chosen as the writer, shortly after being laid off from the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, where she was an immigration reporter.

Lindquist hesitated some in taking the assignment because she does not consider herself a portrait photographer and has turned down many assignments for TIME magazine knowing she was not the best person to do portraits.

Through collaboration with Amrhein, they were able to compile a list of the immigrants they would feature in the book. Some came through personal connections while others were found through media outlets. The book was pitched to several different publishers, some of which turned it down because they thought immigration was too controversial and others turned it down because they did not think it was controversial enough, Lindquist said. Through their perseverance the book was eventually published by Umbrage Editions.

"I think that for better or worse I am the type of person who once I become committed to a project I don't let it go," Lindquist said. "My approach was kind of like slow and steady wins the race. You keep working on it and you focus on the end goal."

Lindquist's approach to the project was first to make sure that each immigrant knew who she was, and ask them to give her at least five hours of their time. Lindquist said some people were surprised that she needed that much time, while others understood and made sure that the five hours was devoted to her.

For some people, Lindquist spent most of the five hours snapping photos while others it was more laid back, just spending time with the person, having conversation and experiencing their life.

"The idea is that through these conversations I can kind of dig down and find the person as they are rather than the person that they want to present themselves to be," Lindquist said.

One photograph that stood out for Lindquist is of Farah Bala, an actress who moved from India to New York in 2001. The photograph shows Bala standing in a patch of tall grass gazing directly into the camera lens.

"There is that frontal lobe where I'm going to be logical about what something means to your life and then there is the subconscious portion of the brain, which I think is what I expressed there," Lindquist said. "I had a feeling about that setting but I couldn't and still can't say why, but I think that the image in some ways is iconic of the process."

Lindquist said that some of the earlier photographs in the book are more traditional photojournalistic, but some, like Bala's, are more portrait like, where the subject is looking directly into the camera.

"I still don't define myself as a portrait photographer but I felt like with certain people in particular that having them looking out at the viewers tells the reader something about them."

Lindquist said she is grateful for the experience producing Green Card Stories. She said like with any project, she came into it hoping to create something that is part of a positive conversation about an issue. She got to spend time with people with great stories who all risked a lot to be part of the book.

"In general I just feel incredibly grateful that so many people were so open with their lives," Lindquist said. "Everyone who was a part of this I feel like gave a part of themselves to the process and also they took a risk."

One immigrant, Randolph Sealey, was an undocumented immigrant who was brought up in a Brooklyn public housing apartment. He did not realize he was undocumented until applying for college and being asked for a social security number he did not have. While being followed around by Lindquist, Sealey, who works as an orthopedic surgeon was asked by a coworker why he was being photographed. It was the first time he had told his coworkers that he was once an undocumented immigrant.

"He takes the risk by being in this book and choosing to be part of this contentious national debate by being in this book," Lindquist said.

Lindquist said she is currently taking a bit of a hiatus while she and her husband relocate to Minneapolis after spending seven years living in China. She is currently trying to get herself established in the U.S.

"The big question is no matter how good you are, what does it really take to make it in this business," Lindquist said.

Lindquist plans to apply for a grant to help jump start her next project, a look into the fundamental differences in the quality of life for immigrants. She wants to document a Swedish community in Minnesota and then wants to go to Sweden and document the similarities and differences, laying out how the Swedish tradition is carried on as people settle in new places.

"I love the idea of collaboration and the collaborative process but now I want to do something that is, for lack of a better word, for myself," Lindquist said.