The exhibit “Origin/Identity/Belonging” at the Edmonds Community College gallery displays the portraits 22 international students from 16 countries. (Michael Wewer)

The exhibit “Origin/Identity/Belonging” at the Edmonds Community College gallery displays the portraits 22 international students from 16 countries. (Michael Wewer)

They came to the college from 16 countries, but this is home

The “Origin/Identity/Belonging” show includes the portraits and essays of 22 international students.

Twenty-two black-and-white portraits line the walls of Edmonds Community College’s gallery.

Their large size — 24 by 30 inches — creates an intimacy with each man or woman pictured, as if each is inviting the viewer to learn more about their stories.

Nearby is a notebook filled with short essays written by each person in the exhibit. All photographed are current or former EdCC students. They came to the college from 16 countries, spanning a geography from Central and South America to Africa and the Middle East — the fruition of an idea that began in 2012.

Michael Wewer, who teaches photography at the college, talked to fellow faculty member Audi Asaf about a project involving photographs of some of the college’s international students.

“We came up with the idea and it went from there — what it took for them to get jobs and where they ended up,” he said.

Wewer said that part of his interest grew out of the number of international students he has in his classes. They comprise about a third of the students he teaches each quarter.

Of the college’s current enrollment of 10,600 students, about 1,200 have come to the U.S. from 62 countries.

Six more years passed before Wewer could do his project. Students were photographed in a small studio on campus last year. The photographs were shot on film and then scanned and digitally printed.

None had experience as models so Wewer took 30 photographs of each person, allowing time for them to get somewhat comfortable with being in front of the camera.

Many came to the college not knowing anyone, not speaking English fluently. But they had a sense of comfort being at place where they were encouraged to pursue their goals, Wewer said.

One of the students photographed in the exhibit is Jules Anoumou from Ghana and Ivory Coast. The 25-year-old student plans to transfer to Bellevue College in January and wants to pursue a career in photojournalism.

In addition to his college work, Anoumou has photographed events in Northwest African communities.

“One of the things about this project is we came from different places,” he said. “Our thoughts are different and way of thinking is different.

“The people in this country are kind of stuck — they haven’t seen what’s happening around the world,” Anoumou said. “This is a good opportunity for them to learn as well.”

Peris Nganda, 25, came to the Seattle area from Kenya and enrolled at the college to pursue a career in nursing. She plans to apply to the University of Washington to earn a bachelor’s of nursing degree.

“It’s wonderful,” she said of the exhibit. “Everyone wants to see all the different cultures. A lot of people wrote about their cultures and their different counties.”

Dylan Edwards, from Costa Rica, took photography classes at the college and now works as a professional videographer.

In his essay, Edwards said he strives to incorporate both American and Costa Rican cultures in his work. “I am very grateful for where I am today,” he wrote.

Wewer said one of the goals of the exhibit is to show that the sense of belonging students come to feel at the college helps them focus on their goals.

“These photos and stories prove that,” he said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

If you go

Through Dec. 13, the “Origin/Identity/Belonging” exhibit featuring photography by Michael J. Wewer, is displayed in the Edmonds Community College gallery on the third floor in Lynnwood Hall at 20212 68th Ave. W., Lynnwood. It is open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The artist’s reception from is 3 to 5 p.m. Nov. 15 at the gallery. More at www.edcc.edu/gallery.

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