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A Blast from the Past: Photographer Martin Desht on the History of the Lehigh Valley

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Photo by Martin Desht

Photo by Martin Desht

Photo by Martin Desht

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The photographer Martin Desht’s work was displayed in the Haupert Union Building from October 24 to November 14,  as a part of the “Faces from an American Dream” exhibit.  

Desht grew up in the Lehigh Valley and shares a similar backstory to many of its natives: he is a child of immigrants who lived within earshot of a foundry. Desht’s perspective as a local allows him to have an understanding of the Valley’s progression throughout history.  

Desht’s photographs seek to document the transition from an industrial manufacturing economy to one of service and information in the late twentieth century in southeastern Pennsylvania. The photographs present an interesting contrast to each other: one image, for example, shows poverty-stricken homes in  rural areas that lost populations to the cities where factories were, while a group of nearby photos depict young African-Americans joyfully outside  a Baptist church in Philadelphia.

Every photo is black and white, which makes the photos appear older than they are. I thought these were taken in the early 1960’s-70’s but then realized some were taken later. The display included a picture of a young man with a Mohawk that looks like it was taken in the 1960’s, but the description states that it’s from the mid 1990’s.

Viewers of this exhibition appreciated how the images reflect both the struggles of people who lost their jobs because they had become obsolete, and the new opportunities that were given to others.  

The effect of that transition is still felt today; many people believe that the country and the times have left them behind. The iconic image of the migrant mother by WPA photographer Dorothea Lange from the Great Depression could easily have fit into this exhibition. One of the most powerful photographs is of a father and  son sitting beside a beaten down pick-up truck: it sums up the feeling of being left behind.

Overall, this was a strong show that appealed to many viewers because of the relevance it has to the current landscape of our country. Those who have benefited greatly in the Information Age and those who have been left to fend for themselves are at odds with each other.

Another strength was the fact that Desht’s  photos were taken in the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia, in the same geographic region as Moravian College, so it hits home. The display helped provide a new perspective on the history of the Bethlehem area.

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1 Comment

One Response to “A Blast from the Past: Photographer Martin Desht on the History of the Lehigh Valley”

  1. Joyce Hinnefeld on January 31st, 2017 8:02 pm

    I loved seeing these photos in the HUB last fall. Thanks for reminding me of their power in this fine piece, Nicholas.

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