Samanta Helou Hernandez uncovers the complex histories of East Hollywood’s immigrant communities

Samanta Helou Hernandez uncovers the complex histories of East Hollywood’s immigrant communities

A prominent feature of Samanta’s work is her brilliant ability to so sensitively and honestly depict her subjects. When discussing how she puts the people she photographs at ease, something she recognises is “uncomfortable for a lot of people”, Samanta explains that “transparency and consent are both key”. “I try to capture people in a dignified manner, no matter who they are. When you lead with empathy and sensitivity toward human beings, the results will be evident in the photograph.”

This considered and humane approach is evident in her portrait of Takashi Hoshizaki, a former botanist and East Hollywood local. Taken as part of the series Making Our Neighbourhood: Redlining, Gentrification, and House in East Hollywood, the portrait aims to shed light on the continued discrimination immigrants face in the United States and “the many layers and complexities of East Hollywood”. In 1942, in the midst of the Second World War, a teenage Takashi and his family were forced to leave their neighbourhood for an internment camp in Wyoming. Demonstrating the unbreakable community bonds forged in his local area, a Black family, with whom Takashi’s family had formed a strong relationship, helped them take care of their property and belongings for the duration of their incarceration. A truly beautiful portrait, so powerful in its composition and use of dappled light, Samanta tells us that “to me, this photo shows Takashi as a strong, and valuable individual surrounded by his beloved plants, in the house he’s lived in for decades”.

Alongside her exceptional portrait photography, Samanta uses landscape photography to bring into question the devastating physical effects of gentrification. Beginning as an archive page on Instagram in 2017, Samanta’s project This Side of Hoover, has now transformed into a vital source of documentation. Detailing as to why she chose to use Instagram as her primary tool, Samanta explains it to ensure the project isn’t one sided and that the narrative is “ongoing”, “people’s comments on my posts are also part of the storytelling”, she says. “Oftentimes people share their own memories about a particular place that close, or a person in the neighbourhood I captured.” Focusing on depicting as many buildings and storefronts as she could, Samanta found that very rapidly “many of those places were replaced by businesses catering to a whiter, more monied demographic that was moving in”. So now, aesthetically looking to depict the visual language of the neighbourhood, which is full of colour and texture, Samanta’s primary goal is to “humanise an oftentimes confusing issue. While gentrification is largely systemic and a result of decades of discriminatory housing policies, it also has very real on the ground effects.”

After the success of This Side of Hoover, Samanta has recently teamed up with a number of fellow storytellers to launch a newsletter entitled Making a Neighbourhood, which continues to uncover East Hollywood’s history whilst also looking to expand into stories from all over the country. “This newsletter is a way to continue to do this work sustainably and it’s an opportunity for people to support local journalists and storytellers.” Samanta concludes. “We’ll be publishing photo essays, creative nonfiction, interviews, and untold histories about what it means to make a neighbourhood.”

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