Ben Cleeton – Student Spotlight

Diaspora Times Two

Ben Cleeton, a documentary photographer, based out of Syracuse, NY, said, “I want to engage my viewers in the fight to challenge exploitative systems, especially the criminal justice and social network institutions.” Cleeton is currently majoring in Photojournalism at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

He photographed the African Diaspora in Guangzhou, China, and the Chinese Diaspora in Accra, Ghana. While he was traveling and photographing the city of Guangzhou, he became interested in the many African people who are living in “Xiao Bei.” He discovered that Africans came to China to pursue economic opportunity. Cleeton went on to research Chinese entrepreneurs’ investment in Africa as well. In Xiao Bei, he met some impoverished, unemployed Gambians who, ironically, had to ask for help from their families instead of sending money home. However, Cleeton was shocked to find that Chinese investors in Ghana are enjoying upper class amenities and are able to send money to their families in China. Challenges faced by those Africans reveal the persistence of hegemonic market forces which are fueled by class and race abuses. Even though these two different diasporas share the value of “responsibility to family,” their lives are totally different.


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While he was doing his project on diasporas, he had difficulty gathering information from the Chinese since they were more reluctant to allow an outsider into their community. Cleeton emphasized,

“I hope that by conducting a long-term micro study, focusing on one or two families, I can portray the humanity of those commonly dismissed by American culture as being drains on the US economy. The power of the project is to draw in audiences who have no experience with urban poverty.”

As part of his interest in family, he is currently doing a project about prison and its effects on family relationships on the Westside of Syracuse. He is also documenting a drug kingpin named Green Eyes, who was arrested in 2014 for his involvement with heroin. Green Eyes allowed him to photograph him throughout his trial, sentencing, and incarceration. While spending time with him and his family, he documented how their relationships deteriorated.

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