Sofia Valiente (BFA ’12) recently published her first photography book Miracle Village with Fabrica. Miracle Village has already been featured by TIME on its Lightbox webpage and by The Guardian. The book has also won “1st prize stories” under the category of “Portraits” in World Press Photo’s 2015 Photo Contest.
Below is the book’s synopsis:
In southern Florida on the southeast corner of Lake Okeechobee lies a small community called Miracle Village. The rectangular compound made up of 52 off-white duplexes on 6 streets and 2 roads was formerly used to house migrant workers that would work in the surrounding miles of sugarcane fields. Now it’s home to over 100 sex offenders. The community was founded four years ago by a Christian ministry that seeks to help individuals reintegrate into society. The residency restriction is the most difficult law to abide by for sex offenders since they must live a minimum of 2,500 feet away from any bus stop, school or place where children congregate. Thus the village is isolated – 5 miles from the closest small town of 8,000 inhabitants and 40 miles from the closest city in the West Palm Beach area.
Over the past year and a half, I have befriended, lived among and photographed the residents of Miracle Village. The men are mixed in age and from various educational and ethnic backgrounds. Together they are all coming to terms with the permanence of living with the label. There is also one woman. In my book, I have chosen 12 individuals that tell the story of a community where everyone shares the same label. (Source: Sofia Valiente)
Valiente’s photography book Miracle Village includes portraits, vernacular texts, and photos of personal objects from the past, and the book considers the daily life as well as the emotional life of its subjects – addressing trust issues, desire for relationship, fear, physical and psychological isolation, stigmatization, families lost and families gained, and an overwhelming gratitude to have found a home.
“I realized that there wasn’t much people knew about sex offenders,” said Valiente. “As a society, we ostracize them because of their label. Hearing their stories made me realize that that they are human; full of fears, desires, hopes, regrets, and all the other complexities we all share.”
Valiente saw first-hand the circumstance in which these residents live. “I do think that the residency restrictions . . . are not an effective way to help either side,” commented Valiente. “All [of] the laws that keep them far away do not address the problem and in the end do not find a solution. I think it’s important to understand the context of what led up to their crimes and to see them as human beings, instead of just casting them away.”
Valiente has gone from student in a classroom to alumna with a book under her belt. She remembers her education at FIU Art + Art History, “at FIU there was no pressure. I met Peggy Nolan, who always taught me to ask myself, ‘What do I want to say?’ I brought that out with me into the village.” She added, “my professors never tried to force me into something, they let me listen to myself.”
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