Small-Town America Through the Lens of an Immigrant
In 2015, Greek-born photographer Niko Kallianiotis began driving around Pennsylvania, taking photos of small-town life.
Kallianiotis, who grew up in the small Greek town of Kozani, says he feels a strong connection to these modest, blue-collar cities.
Although Kallianiotis doesn’t avoid the shuttered shops and closed-down factories, his photographs focus on the human side of life in the Rust Belt.
When Pennsylvania became a battleground in the 2016 presidential election, Kallianiotis’s project took on an unexpected political resonance.
Kallianiotis says the photographs aren’t intentionally political, although they do touch on political and economic themes.
Kallianiotis was shocked to hear a television reporter expressing surprise at the economic conditions of the Rust Belt shorly after the election—conditions that he and other Pennsylvanians are all too familiar with.
Although Kallianiotis sees some similarities between Greece and America, one difference is that small Greek towns still have many mom-and-pop stores, whereas in America big box stores have largely driven their competition out of business.
Kallianiotis says that wealthy Greeks stay in closer touch with impoverished areas of the country than do affluent Americans.
“You make people into caricatures, and then you wonder what happened,” Kallianiotis observes about the 2016 election.
Kallianiotis doesn’t shy away from the uglier side of life in Rust Belt America, such as boarded up shops.
This image, taken at a bus stop in Western Pennsylvania, was one of the first photographs Kallianiotis took for the series.
“I want my photographs to start a conversation about this area, and maybe provide an entrance into a discussion that can benefit everyone,” Kallianiotis says.
Kallianiotis moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1999, a year after immigrating from Greece, and has lived there ever since.
“I have a very heavy accent, I’m a foreigner, but when I go into these areas I’ve never had a problem,” Kallianiotis says. “What I’ve encountered is people getting along.”
Kallianiotis says that all Americans should visit Rust Belt towns like this one rather than rely on media depictions that aren’t always accurate.