Poa Houa Her
Black and white portrait photo of a man sitting on a stool

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untitled (man)
Collection of the artist, courtesy of Bockley Gallery

As a young child, the photographer Pao Houa Her emigrated from Laos to the United States. She was one of the thousands of Hmong refugees to resettle in Minneapolis–St. Paul, having experienced displacement as a result of the Laotian Civil War (1959–1975) and the U.S. “Secret War” (c. 1964–c. 1973), two conflicts that were imbricated with the Vietnam War.

In photographs such as untitled (man), taken at a Hmong senior center in St. Paul, Her brings attention to the long-lasting effects that the Secret War has had on the Hmong refugee community. She chose to position the man in front of a printed studio backdrop, alongside fake plants. The setting is meant to evoke Hmong portrait studios and the memories of Laos that Her’s grandmother shared with her. Both sitter and viewer enter into an “imagined landscape,” one that bridges the historical realities of the Hmong elder’s past and present.