The history of photography of California farmworkers

In politics there is the so-called “Washington read” which, according to Word Spy is: “The perusal of a book in a bookstore that consists of checking the index for references to oneself and reading only those parts of the book.” I never thought I would live to see the day when I did my own version of the “Washington read” of a book, but that happened recently.

The book in question is titled: Everyone Had Cameras: Photography and Farmworkers in California, 1850-2000 by Richard Steven Street. The publisher describes the book much better than I could, writing:

“American photographers have been fascinated by the lives of California farm workers since the time of the daguerreotype. From the earliest Gold Rush era images and the documentary photographs taken during the Great Depression to digital images today, photographers and farm workers in California have had a complicated and continuously changing bond. (It) provides a comprehensive history of the significant presence of California farm workers in the visual culture of America.”

If you do a modified version of a Washington read, you will see that my project on the Pesticide Poisoning of farmworkers in California — http://www.davidhwells.com/portfolio/the-pesticide-poisoning-of-california-farm-workers/ — is explored in great detail in Chapter 22, p. 523-527. I am honored to be included in such a comprehensive and important book. While reading the part about my work, I was reminded of several things:

1) The real importance of documentary photography as a historical record of events and people’s lives. I had that idea in mind in some vague way when I was photographing, but the book made that abstraction very real.

2) The importance of grants such as the National Press Photographers Association/Nikon Documentary Sabbatical Grant. I was honored to win that grant in 1988 and without the funds I simply would not have been able to complete this important project.

I look forward to sitting down and reading the book from beginning to end. I will be looking to better appreciate how my work fits into the larger history of photography of California farm workers and how that history has paralleled the larger history of photography. It should be a great read.

One response to “The history of photography of California farmworkers”

  1. Congratulation on being included in the book David. I hopped over to your other site to see the images. What a wonderful set of photographs; what a sad sad story. I hope that the workers have better conditions – the great thing about photographs is that the story is right there in front of you.

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