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

Human Rights Photographer’s Collection Donated to UConn

by Suzanne Zack, University Libraries, for UConn Today

RomanoChildLaborersPickCoffeeOnACoffeePlantationThe late U. Roberto (Robin) Romano was an accomplished photographer, award-winning filmmaker, and human rights advocate who unflinchingly focused his eye and lens on children around the world, capturing the violation of their rights.

Since 2009, Romano had made a limited number of his images available to researchers through the UConn Libraries’ Archives & Special Collections. Now, two years after his death, his total body of work, including video tape masters and digital video files, hundreds of interviews, thousands of digital photos and prints, plus his research files have been given to UConn and will now be available to those who examine human rights issues.

More than 100 of Romano’s images of child labor originally exhibited at the UConn’s William Benton Museum of Fine Art in 2006 are available online from the University Archives & Special Collections. These are the first of the more than 130,000 still images that will be available online for research and educational use once the collection is processed. The Archives & Special Collections plans to digitize the entire collection of analog still images, negatives, and research files, creating an unprecedented online resource relating to documentary journalism, child labor and human rights, and other social issues that Romano documented during his lifetime.  Continue reading…


Remembering Robin Romano

Underneath a street lamp, children study math in Sikasso, Mali late at night.


The University of Connecticut community is saddened to learn of the passing of award winning photographer U. Roberto (Robin) Romano.  Romano was a photographer, filmmaker and human rights educator. The son of the artist and Works Progress Administration (WPA) muralist Umberto Romano, Robin Romano was born in New York where he attended the Lycee Francais,  Allen Stevenson School and Horace Mann High School. Mr. Romano graduated from  Amherst College as an Interdisciplinary Scholar in 1980.  Working closely with the Human Rights Institute and Archives & Special Collections, Mr. Romano began depositing his personal papers with UConn in 2008.

Romano began his career in documentaries as a producer and cameraman for Les Productions de Sagittaire in Montreal, where he worked on several series including 5 Defis and L’Oeil de L’Aigle.

His film projects include: Death of a Slave Boy, a two-hour special shot in  Pakistan for European broadcast,  Globalization and Human Rights hosted by  Charlayne Hunter Gault for  PBS,  Stolen Childhoods, the first theatrically released feature documentary on global child labor,  The Dark Side of Chocolate, a feature documentary on trafficking in Western Africa, and  The Harvest/La Cosecha, a feature documentary on child migrant laborers in the United States for which he won the Shine Global Award. He was also a contributor to the NPR and  BBC specials on slavery in the  Ivory Coast and has contributed to films as diverse as  In Debt We Trust and  Darfur Now.

As a still photographer, his exhibition “Stolen Childhoods: the Global Plague of Child Labor,” was on view at the William Benton Museum of Fine Art at the University of Connecticut in 2006. He has been the photographer for Rugmark, a foundation working to end illegal child labor in the carpet industry) and to offer educational opportunities to children in South Asia, as well as GoodWeave (the iconic photos of child rug weavers in Nepal.  Additionally, Romano created the mural and poster for the Council on Foreign Relations announcing their universal education campaign. Other organizations that have used his work include  Human Rights Watch,  Amnesty International,  Free the Slaves,  The International Labor Organization,  Stop the Traffik,  The Hunger Project,  International Labor Rights Forum,  The Farm Labor Organizing Committee and  Antislavery International. His work has appeared in such publications as The Ford Foundation Quarterly, The Stanford Review,  Scholastic, and  UConn Magazine, and has been seen on billboards and posters around the world. Romano has appeared as a guest on Nightline with Ted Koppel as well as Newsnight with Aaron Brown.  He was recently active As an advocate for and an authority on children’s and human rights, Romano appeared at many forums, schools and universities. He gave the Frank Porter Graham Lecture at the Johnson Center for Academic Excellence, University of North Carolina, and the Gene and Georgia Mittelman Distinguished Lecture in the Arts at the University of Connecticut. In 2007 he was invited to give the plenary speech at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs annual conference in Coeur d’Alene. He has also lectured at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Oak Institute for International Human Rights at Colby College.

Robin Romano will be greatly missed by all those he has touched at UConn.

A young boy at the bus station in Sikasso, Mali

(Images from the Robin Romano Papers, used with permission.)

March 2011 Item of the Month: Photograph from the Romano Human Rights Digital Photograph Collection

A child laborer picks cocoa pods in the Ivory Coast. Photograph by U. Roberto Romano, 2006. 
Image from the Romano Human Rights Digital Photograph Collection, Thomas  J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Photograph by U. Roberto Romano, 2006.

The West African country of Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, with over 40% of the world’s production. Despite the signing of the Cocoa Protocol in 2001, child labor is still rampant in the cocoa industry, often involving the illegal trafficking of children from Mali and Niger to work in the cocoa fields of Ivory Coast. Children as young as seven work in the fields, facing dangerous tasks of cutting down cocoa pods with machetes and carrying heavy loads. Most children are never paid for their work.

American photographer and documentary filmmaker U. Roberto (Robin) Romano has documented human rights issues for advocacy organizations around the world including GoodWeave, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The International Labor Organization, Stop The Traffik, The Hunger Project, The Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Council on Foreign Relations and Antislavery International.

Romano’s most recent film, The Dark Side of Chocolate (2010), co-directed with Danish journalist Miki Mistrati, documents the continued allegations of trafficking of children and child labor in the international chocolate industry, despite a voluntary protocol to end abusive and forced child labor on cocoa farms by 2005.

However, in 2005, the cocoa industry failed to comply with the protocol’s terms, and a new deadline for 2008 was established. In 2008 the terms of the protocol were still not met, and yet another deadline for 2010 was set. Meanwhile, child labor in the cocoa industry continues.

For more information, see the International Labor Rights Forum’s information on child labor in the cocoa industry.

Human rights documentation is a focus of the Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. More information about the Romano Papers and other human rights collections can be found on the Dodd Center’s website.

Romano’s film, The Dark Side of Chocolate, will soon be available at the University of Connecticut Libraries as part of the Human Rights Film Collection, which contains approximately 500 films on an array of human rights themes.  An annotated listing of films is available on the UConn Libraries’ website.

–Valerie Love, Curator for Human Rights and Alternative Press Collections