A New Perspective on The U. Roberto Romano Papers

Marijane Ceruti, Assistant Archivist of the U. Roberto Romano Papers, is a 2014 BFA graduate of the UConn School of Fine Arts. Since graduation, she has worked as a freelance photographer and photography assistant in addition to exhibiting and gaining notoriety for her fine art photography work. She has an extensive technical background in addition to her knowledge of the history of photography.

My first day on the job as the Assistant Archivist of the U. Roberto Romano Papers was a good one. I was handed the torch by fellow UConn alumnus and friend Brooke Foti Gemmell who was taking a different position within the UConn library through her work here. “The first couple of weeks will be intimidating, but you’ll get the hang of it” were words that I heard come out of her mouth more than once. As I got settled in and took the time to dive into the collection I began to realize I shared a lot with the photographer whose work I would be getting to know. Robin and I were both Italian-American photographers who spoke French, liked crass humor and made a lot of the same choices in photography. Robin cited the greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank as some of his inspirations and I too could count them as some of my own.

 

 

As I sifted through memory card after memory card of born digital images in the first couple of days, I started to notice that Robin and I made the same aesthetic decisions in our work. Photographers holding their subjects hostage in front of the lens until finally giving into the moment, making corrections to posture and hair as shoots progressed and even down to equipment choices. Without being prompted I found myself collecting my favorite images of Robin’s in a  folder on my desktop titled “Notable Images”. Now the folder is 600 images strong and I’m sure it will continue to grow. As I look at them, I am reminded of how unique of a person Robin was as he exhibited  equal parts compassion and ruthlessness, humility and prestige, documentarian and artist. These traits are necessary and rare in someone that captures such emotionally charged scenes and shares them with the world. I look forward to sharing this information with the public so that they can see the truth behind child labor, the life of an artist and the complexities that come with processing such a large and vast collection that spans a revolution in photography.

Marijane sorting through prints from Robin’s early work in Pakistan

Now that I have been in this position for 6 months, I am starting to get comfortable curating and archiving with Robin’s voice in mind. I see the choices he made and feel confident that I can respect his vision as well as his compassionate and strong voice when representing the collection. I am so grateful that I was given this opportunity to take a peek inside the collection of such an empathetic and talented photographer. I feel blessed that I get to hold a position that is important and valued within the university and the world alike. I hope that I am able to share Robin’s work in the way in which he intended, care for it in the way that it deserves and bring my talents of exhibiting and marketing to the  collection for students and scholars to learn from and enjoy.

I’m proud to say I will bring pieces of Robin’s work into my own as an artist. In a world that is hurting, I am honored to be able to represent a body of work that was founded by the desire to end suffering.

Thank you to the University of Connecticut Library for this opportunity and to everyone that donated to the Robin Romano Foundation to make this position possible.

Romano Photography Exhibit “Lifting the Veil” On Display

Lifting the Veil: A Photographic Archive of Child Labor in Light Manufacturing

September 28th – October 31, 2017
Archives & Special Collections Gallery
Thomas J. Dodd Research Center
University of Connecticut

 

Bangle Making

A young boy puts glass ornaments onto bangles to be sold in the United States and Europe. Child workers are chronically tired from long hours and irregular rest, increasing probability of disease and malnutrition.

From silver gelatin processing of the 19th century to 4k Ultra-High-Definition film of the 21st, photography has served not only to illustrate and document human activity but to also demonstrate and agitate on behalf of its subjects.  Likeminded activists and journalists have similarly sought to employ the camera as a tool for advocacy to change policy, discourse and public perception around past events which inform our future as consumers in a global capitalist world.  Curated and on display in this exhibition are photographic works from light manufacturing industries and the workers they employ as documented through the lens of photographer and documentarian U. Roberto (Robin) Romano.  In particular, the role of children at work remained a constant feature of Robin’s photography and film which became a hallmark of labor activism beginning in the early 20th century with the work of Lewis Hine.  In Robin’s eyes, acceptance of shared concerns across cultures and corners of the globe became the starting point for making concrete change, which he portrayed through photography as his device for “lifting the veil of perceived evil that comes from bias and stereotyping.”  His framing of the inherent concerns in society drew him to document the most vulnerable elements, “I think there is an a priori appreciation that we have within us of a sense of our common humanity. It seems to me it takes a lot of work and a lot of noise to create environments that forget that. And as a result, we are suffering the consequences of our forgetting.”[1]

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The Romano Papers: Stolen Childhoods in 4D

Students from Prof. Anna Lindemann's Motion Graphics I course explore the Romano Stolen Childhoods Collection.

Students from Prof. Anna Lindemann’s Motion Graphics I course explore the Stolen Childhoods Collection, part of the U. Roberto (Robin) Romano Papers.

At the end of October, I was delighted to help facilitate a class visit to the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, along with Graham Stinnett, the Archivist for Human Rights Collections and Alternative Press Collections at the Archives & Special Collections Department. Digital Media & Design Professor Anna Lindemann brought her Motion Graphics I course to see the U. Roberto (Robin) Romano Papers in person; the two classes were able to get a look behind the curtain of the Stolen Childhoods collection, to see and handle the physical materials and to learn some context surrounding the digital collection that they were already familiar with.

Professor Lindemann charged her students with exploring the application of motion graphics to still photographs, and then added the challenging component of upholding the intentions of a collection dealing with the gravity of child labor. To Lindemann, it was integral that the students experience the physicality first-hand, and were able to learn more about the motivations behind Romano’s work.

“Working with the Robin Romano collection was eye-opening. Seeing his life-long devotion to photographic art form as a way to raise awareness about child labor definitely made the class and me reflect on our own modes of working and the potential significance of our work. There was something especially striking about seeing his boxes upon boxes of work prints, negatives, photographs, and hard drives, including one of his hard drives labeled “not working.” This brought to mind so many of the aspects that we grapple with in digital media classes: the great mound of (often unseen) work behind a single effective image, and the capacity for an image or animation to be at once impactful and ephemeral.” – Professor Anna Lindemann

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The Romano Papers: An Introduction To Archiving The Collection

 

Toddler Screams Atop Garbage At The Bekasi Dump

As a University of Connecticut alum, I can think back to a handful of trips to the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center while working on projects and papers as an undergraduate. Back in June, I set foot in the stacks of the Archives and Special Collections Department for the first time as I interviewed for the position of Archivist Assistant for the U. Roberto (Robin) Romano Papers. I was introduced to the side of the ASC that students don’t typically get to see, and was presented with a literal mountain of material that would soon become my charge. Continue reading

Archiving Robin Romano’s Work

This guest post by Archivist Assistant Cristobal Ortega-Berger details his work with the U. Roberto Romano Papers which document child labor in still photography and documentary film.  This collection is a massive resource for film makers like Cris, as well as human rights and photo-journalism researchers. Selections from the Romano Papers are on display in May and June of 2016 in the John P. McDonald Reading Room at the Archives & Special Collections.

The unlock tone rang, I inhaled sterile air, and slid the rubber lid off of a box. Silver and dark hard drives line the inside of six boxes; scores of video cassette tapes and DVDs populate the rest. Data storage’s ubiquity almost make me forget these media preserve evidence of child labor, and progress from it. The question I asked on my first day of work is a simple one that archivists alongside humanitarians ask:

“What are we working with here?”

  1. Roberto (Robin) Romano worked as an international news and documentary producer and photographer. A prolific filmmaker and photographer, Romano worked commercially under Alan Kaplan Studios for private clients like Budweiser, AT&T, and Coca Cola. Romano also worked as a visual journalist for Sept Jours, a Canadian news show, and as a photojournalist for Impact Visuals before he took on his pivotal work Death of the Slave Boy (1997). The two-hour documentary investigated the life and death of Pakistani Iqbal Masih, an outspoken 12 year old child slave and activist.

We are working with files from a well-traveled humanitarian who was as comfortable filming in an illegal quarry as he was researching child labor laws in his cigarette-smoke stained studio.

Young American Migrant Farm Worker Picking Onions

Romano ignited his work on global child labor. He soon traveled to Mexico, Pakistan, Kenya, Brazil, Indonesia, India, Nepal, and inside the United States to interview and photograph working children. The result was the beginning of a movement. Romano Productions and Galen Films premiered Stolen Childhoods in New York on May 20, 2005. The same day, Dana Stevens, of the New York Times, wrote about the film “The bleakness of ‘Stolen Childhoods’ is not completely unremitting; the film also celebrates the efforts of a few successful programs to combat the scourge of child labor around the world.”

We are working with a collection of dangerously and meticulously documented voices and faces that changed legislation, and may continue to do so. Romano left behind photos of child laborers, hidden camera interviews with traffickers and victims, filmmaking budgets, working film scripts, and professional correspondences. During the last decades of his life – Romano made professional relationships with non-profit organizations like RugMark, Goodweave, Human Rights Watch, and other humanitarian organizations. RugMark: Faces of Freedom photo exhibition is one of Romano’s signature projects that shatters preconceptions of human, and especially, child trafficking.

My first work as an archivist is on the Robin Romano collection; my background is in documentary visual journalism. At the time I was approached to work on Romano’s collection, I was editing a documentary about human trafficking called Free Time. In it – academics and prominent leaders who tangibly challenge human trafficking explain the problems in understanding what is human trafficking and its forms.

Human trafficking is discussed using an established visual grammar. Films like Taken (2007) show white, adolescent, rich female tourists who are kidnapped to sell for sex work in Eastern Europe. This is not entirely inaccurate, but repeated exposure to this visual pattern allows others to devalue and ignore hundreds of millions of stories like those shown in Stolen Childhoods. Romano’s evidence disproves the single narrative approach of human trafficking, and the single narrative approach to solutions.

I am not going to be the first photographer filmmaker researching Romano’s collection. As a young visual journalist, I am learning about professional workflow by ingesting and archiving documents like a list of questions for a subject, an equipment budget, or a photo contact sheet. Given the gravity of the collection, I have been forced to ask new questions about perspective and agency: how does one reconcile their privilege as a documentarian relating with the subject or interviewee, how does a filmmaker ask a child questions that conjure up memories of skin-peeling work? Will this collection of child labor ever be obsolete in describing contemporary social problems?

Len Morris, Romano’s co-director for Stolen Childhoods and longtime friend donated the majority of Romano’s physical and digital collections to the Archives and Special Collections in 2015. Morris recently premiered The Same Heart, a documentary discussing solutions to child labor, and used many of Romano’s final moving images. Posthumously, Romano’s work may continue to work to educate and challenge ignorance about poverty, policy, prejudice, and profit.

Cristobal Ortega-Berger

The Same Heart Film Screening

c8d1d1ec-0e61-4abe-89a8-a6547d08c2c5Len & Georgia Morris will be screening their film on child poverty The Same Heart this Wednesday, April 20th 2016 from 4-6pm in the Konover Auditorium at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. The film, screened as part of the Human Rights Institute’s Film Series, follows a growing number of global economists, joining their voices with moral leaders of the world. They agree that an extremely small financial transaction tax, The Robin Hood Tax,” could for the first time, place the needs of children at the heart of the global financial system. Suggesting a sustainable approach,The Same Heart also follows a dynamic Kenyan community organizer who devotes his life to making programs work from the bottom up.

This film connects significantly with our U. Roberto (Robin) Romano Papers in the Archives & Special Collections, recently donated by Len Morris.  Robin Romano, credited as Cameraman in The Same Heart, directed and shot several films on child labor and global income inequality.  Although he passed away in 2013, his creative legacy involves a focus on human rights violations experienced by children around the world. His complete body of work including photos, films, and interviews, is now archived with at the Archives & Special Collections.

Len Morris and Robin Romano

Len Morris and Robin Romano

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016
4:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Konover Auditorium 

Thomas J. Dodd Center, Storrs Campus