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Photo: Mimi Plumb. Anonymous man. Do you know this man?
During the summer of 1975, Mimi Plumb spent months in the Salinas Valley, watching farmworkers make history.
“I traveled up and down the valleys of California photographing the young men living in farm labor camps, in chicken coops and under the sky, the children and adults working together in the fields, and the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) organizers and volunteers listening and talking with farmworkers about how elections in the fields might change their lives,” says Plumb.
Plumb shot dozens of rolls of film, which she developed at the time and made prints. But she didn’t show them much except for in the UFW field office and in an SFAI (San Francisco Art Institute) exhibition. A few images appeared in newspapers at the time.
Almost 40 years later, after her retirement from teaching, Plumb pulled the negatives and old prints from their boxes and started to put together the pieces. (An edit Pictures From The Valley is on her website).
It is an exhilarating re-emergence.
Camp Roberts. The weather had turned warm, and by noon the temperature topped 100 degrees. The marchers stopped for a rest at Camp Roberts, a former Army training center just off Highway 101. Chavez was always using his time to organize – whether he was in motion or sitting still. He posed for photos with groups of workers from each of the ranches — the hand sewn banners forming a good backdrop. Photo: Mimi Plumb. Caption: Miriam Pawel.
The photos are rich and pregnant; they deserve so much attention. And they get it. The California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, with help from the Center for Community Advocacy and the National Steinbeck Center, produced and funded efforts to identify the people in Plumb’s photographs and to seek out their stories.
The result is Democracy In The Fields, a visual record paired with oral histories. It’s the history of popular movements mixed with anthropology mixed with the history of labor. I love the way photographs have been leveraged here to shape a collective story that would otherwise have been dissipated and drowned out.
Among the subjects are Rosa Saucedo, Jose Renteria, Mario Bustamante, Alberto Magallon, Sabino Lopez, Celestino Rivas, Ricardo Villalpando, Cesar Chavez and the Amezcua Family.
Many of the people in Plumb’s photographs were identified by journalist Miriam Pawel who has written extensively about Chavez and the history of the United Farm Workers union. Together, Plumb and Pawel met with groups of former farmworkers who had been in Salinas in 1975.
“Children saw pictures of their parents as young adults for the first time. Grown men who had no photos of their fathers found them in Plumb’s images,” says the Democracy In The Fields website.
The faces in the images are luminous. Time and time again, there’s huge joy among the workers. Did they know they were marching to victory? Despite the grave consequences at stake, the workers and protesters seem unencumbered by the repsonsibility. The marchers particularly look as if they’re relishing ever purpose-defined moment.
The Teatro Campesino performed skits at the Potter Road Labor Camp. Photo: Mimi Plumb.
UFW Field Office. Photo: Mimi Plumb.
Photo: Mimi Plumb.
In the summer of 1975, with only months to prepare for the first elections in the fields, dozens of farmworkers who had demonstrated leadership were tapped by the UFW to leave their jobs in the fields and work for the union for ten weeks. Rosa Saucedo, a 21-year-old in the lettuce fields, was one of 40 hired in Salinas. Each was assigned specific companies. Rosa’s job was to win over workers at D’Arrigo, a large vegetable grower where the UFW was fighting the Teamsters. She was interviewed in Spanish by journalist Bob Barber in the midst of the campaign. Photo: Mimi Plumb. Caption: Miriam Pawel.
Photo: Mimi Plumb.
Jose Renteria mans one of the election booths. When the votes were counted, the UFW won a big victory – 188 votes to 84 for the Teamsters and 4 for No Union. Photo: Mimi Plumb. Caption: Miriam Pawel.
Journalist Bob Barber was conducting interviews in 1975 in the fields. Tapes from his archives provide audio on the website. Plumb and Pawel also conducted their own interviews in recent years. Wendy Vissar finessed the workers’ stories into a digital form.
“Celestino, Ricardo, Rosa and Chuy often included me in their daily rounds, from the fields and camps to Maria’s kitchen table,” writes Plumb. “The UFW field offices were a hub of activity, of nightly meetings, and frequent visits from the union president, Cesar Chavez.”
Farmworkers listen to Ricardo Villalpando, who worked tirelessly to persuade others that supporting the UFW was the path to a better life. He went wherever he had to in order to talk to workers in small groups—buses, the fields, labor camps, apartments. Photo: Mimi Plumb. Caption: Miriam Pawel.
‘With the Virgen of Guadalupe Leading the Way’. Every day, Chavez walked between ten and twenty miles. On July 28, the marchers reached San Lucas, where Chavez held the first evening rally in the Salinas Valley, in a small wooded grove on a makeshift stage. The next morning, the marchers set off again, heading for King City. Photo: Mimi Plumb. Caption: Miriam Pawel.
“On June 5th, 1975, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (CALRA) became law,” explains Plumb. “In July and August of 1975, Chavez led a 1,000 mile march, to help bring attention to the landmark statute recognizing the right of farmworkers to vote for union representation. The first farmworker election was held on September 5th, 1975 with a vote of 15-0 for the UFW.”
What an incredible project.
It takes a while to meander through the history and the people involved in the movement, but it’s a rewarding wander.
Photo: Mimi Plumb.
Photo: Mimi Plumb.
The project is ongoing. You can help identify people in Plumb’s pictures!
Connect on Facebook too.
I mean really, at this point, what should we expect? I’m getting sick and tired of centrist, rightwing (and older) Americans ignoring the wonderful examples repeatedly set by youngsters about humane ways to treat one another.
Latest example? In Arizona, the students of Prescott College, a small liberal arts school focused on environmental education, recently voted by a huge majority to initiate a $30 added charge to their annual tuition fees. The $15,000 that will be raised is to pay for a scholarship for one undocumented person to attend the college.
It’s laudable. It’s community minded. It’s called the Freedom Education Fund.
A few things to note first.
- This was a student led initiative.
- No faculty or administrative body foisted this upon the kids.
- This is a relatively small gesture: This fund will assist one teenager from an estimated 65,000 undocumented high-school graduates each year. (Only 10,000 of those graduates enroll in college each year.)
- This is a massive gesture in Arizona, a state in which voters approved Prop 300, a 2006 ballot measure, that prohibits students from paying in-state tuition and receiving federal and state financial aid if they cannot prove they are in the U.S. legally. Prescott College, a private institution, is exempt from the law which polices only public colleges and universities. Here then, relatively privileged kids are acknowledging and acting upon their privilege. This is Millennials being global citizens. Meanwhile the powerful in our world are hoarding and secreting cash left, right and centre!
Really, what is wrong with rightwing media like Fox and Breitbart who cast this empowered and beautiful move by students as a “levy” and a sneaky, “mandatory” subversive maneuver? What are right-wingers so fearful of? What whinging, narrow-focus on the world do you grip when youth solidarity bothers you but bloody-minded racism you let pass? What small world does one inhabit, if youngsters’ kindness to one another is cause for contempt?
Hurrah, kudos and all the very best to the students at Prescott College. Don’t listen to the haters and don’t let them distract you from the love you bear, the values you hold and the structural tweaks you make in the cause of social justice.
This is mind-boggling. But perhaps not surprising. It’s another very large leap in AI/robotics/super-computing.
At Google, Tobias Weyand and his team have trained a deep-learning machine to work out the location of almost any photo using only the photo; only the pixels it contains.
They fed the neural network–which they’ve named PlaNet–126 million images along with their accompanying Exif location data. Based upon that info, when fed a new image, PlaNet analyses visual clues (buildings, topography, vegetation, weather, etc) to determine the most probable location.
“PlaNet is able to localize 3.6% of the images at street-level accuracy and 10.1% at city-level accuracy,” say Weyand and co. What’s more, the machine determines the country of origin in a further 28.4% of the photos and the continent in 48% of them.
So that’s 3 in every 100 PlaNet puts right at the front door. 1 in 10, it knows the city, and in over a quarter the neural network correctly identifies the country. Impressive.
What’s the future looking like? For the first time, I’m really fretting over the strength of the global human community to make the right–and ever-recurring–decisions on the ethics and control of AI. After a computer beat the world’s best Go player this month, the making of AlphaGo (another Google project) warned against hasty application of AI technologies. Stephen Hawking has been erring caution for decades. AI is still is a long way from applying learning from one system to another so we needn’t worry about self-driving cars learning to control markets or journalism robots changing careers and taking the reigns of power.
But who’s to say that in a few decades, you won’t be able to connect the automated detection of news events in, say, social media, to trigger the dispatch of drones pre-programmed to make photos (behind police tape/above breaking stories/inside toxic environs)? Then the images are sent images to the systems of robot journalists which in turn publish a story in a template. Possible? Maybe. Fine-tune the identifying capacity of PlaNet and you’ve accurate captioning info enough to furnish a news agency … and dispose of the photojournalist!?!
Such a scenario would take care of breaking news, but I’ll still wager on humans, not robots, to fashion the long-form documentary projects. Hell, by then, documentary photography stories might be one of the few things left connecting us!
Thanks Robert Gumpert for the tip off
Benedict Fernandez, Memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., Central Park, New York, 1968. Courtesy Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum
UPDATE: I guess the essay was that good, Aperture had second thoughts about sharing it online? It was deleted from the web a couple of days after publication. You can read a cached version here.
Sarah Lewis, an Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and African American Studies at Harvard University, has a lot of exhilarating thoughts about the roles images play and why they are so important to a justice-inclined society. More exciting for me is the argument she makes about we, as consuming citizens, having to educate ourselves, and to read images. In essence, we must leverage images to our democratic and just ends while rejecting the image-messaging of nefarious sources.
The essay “Vision & Justice” that Lewis penned as intro to the May 2016 Aperture magazine (of the same title) is a call to action, but one that demands buy-in and effort. It’s the opposite of abandoning media because we presume it’s controlled by corporate and state forces. It’s an essay that falls within the pedagogy of activism. Love it. Here’s a snippet:
“Understanding the relationship of race and the quest for full citizenship in this country requires an advanced state of visual literacy, particularly during periods of turmoil. Today, we’ve been able to witness injustices in a firsthand way on a massive scale that would have been unimaginable decades ago. We have had to ask ourselves questions that call upon powers of visual analysis to read, for example, the image of Eric Garner’s killing, virally disseminated through social media, or to understand the symbolism in Dylann Roof’s self-styled portraiture before his killing of the Emanuel 9 in Charleston. Being an engaged citizen requires grappling with pictures, and knowing their historical context with, at times, near art-historical precision. Yet it is the artist who knows what images need to be seen to affect change and alter history, to shine a spotlight in ways that will result in sustained attention. The enduring focus that comes from the power of the images presented in these pages—from artists such as Ava DuVernay and Bradford Young, Deborah Willis and Jamel Shabazz, to Lorna Simpson and LaToya Ruby Frazier—move us from merely seeing to holding a penetrating gaze long enough that we consider what is before us anew.”
“It was an abolitionist print, not logical argument, which dealt the final blow to the legalization of the slave trade—the broadside Description of a Slave Ship (1789). The London print of the British slave ship Brookes showed the dehumanizing statistical visualization with graphic precision—how the legally permitted 454 men, women, and children might be accommodated by treating humans as more base than commodities (though the ship Brookes carried many more, up to 740). The image it conjured in the mind was intolerable enough to help abolish the institution; the broadside served in parliamentary hearings as the evidentiary proof of slavery’s inhumanity.”
Sarah Lewis is the author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery (2014).
A boy from Afghanistan tries to keep warm after a cold and wet crossing from Turkey. Cases of hypothermia are on the increase as the weather deteriorates across the eastern Mediterranean.
In an image saturated world it’s difficult to define and measure the effects of photographs. We know advertising works, but those are images intended to sell us stuff. What if the purpose of a photograph is to “sell” us of a moral or political point? What if a photograph wants us to shift our emotional and practical response to far away events?
Giles Duley’s work Lesvos: Crossing To Safety made in Greece last October are intended, firstly, to bear witness and, secondly, to provoke action to help the hundreds of thousands of migrants. That’s why he didn’t simply make images and send them to the wires, but he courted the support of the United Nations so that he might extend the distribution of his images — and the refugees’ stories — far into global, humanitarian dialogue channels. (This UN-produced feature on Duley’s career and motivations is very thorough.)
Not content with only traditional distribution channels, Duley looked for alternative ways of launching his images into an unorthodox space; a Massive Attack gig.
“The scenes were overwhelming,” Duley said to the UNHCR. “In all the time I’ve worked, I’ve never seen such emotion and humanity laid so bare as I witnessed on the beaches of Lesvos. One of the first emails I sent was to the guys in Massive Attack. Seeing such events, I felt so powerless, I needed to do something. At that stage I had no idea how the collaboration would work, but I knew the band would want to act.”
Stills of Giles Duley’s photos on screen behind the stage of Massive Attack. Courtesy: Massive Attack.
A founding element of the era-defining Trip Hop genre, Massive Attack are known for taking forthright stances on political and governmental behaviours. Saturday Come Slow, their collaboration with released British Guantanamo detainees, Broomberg & Chanarin and Damon Albarn was poignant, crafted and clever, I thought.
Furthermore, as Alexis Petridis wrote for the Guardian, “Massive Attack have worked with the Stop the War coalition and visited refugee camps in Lebanon, while in 2011, Del Naja and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke threw a party for Occupy protesters who had taken over a UBS bank building in London.”
It’s not surprise Massive Attack are lending their support to Duley and shocking their euphoric crowds with thumping reality. Duley’s images loop throughout the gig, but they get their biggest showing at the close of the show, when the music ends and the band leaves the stage. For minutes — in silence — the crowd is shown a mammoth slideshow of Syrians and other migrants landing in boats, hungry, tired and terrified. A far cry from the revelry of a gig. But people stayed. This Channel 4News segment is well worth the watch:
History has taught us that photos can certainly alter the mood of entire populations. Practice has also taught us that earnest, targeted messaging can help photos land. I hope more artists can lend a hand to serve the messages of humanitarian photographers. Usually, professionals commission images to be made to meet their own messaging needs so it’s great to see artists, citizens and successful public figures provide space within their platforms to amplify photographer’s voice.
Included here are Giles Duley’s images from Lesvos, Greece, made in October 2015.
An overcrowded boat carrying Syrian refugees heads to shore. One Syrian man had fallen from the boat into cold water. He was later rescued by volunteer Spanish lifeguards. Despite the approach of winter and worsening weather, refugees are continuing to arrive on the island at a rate of more than 3,200 per day. As of mid-November, at least 64 people have drowned this year in 11 shipwrecks off Lesvos.
Boat after boat lands on the coast of Lesvos between Eftalou and Skala Sykaminia. Over 45 per cent of the 836,088 refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe so far in 2015 have landed on this Greek island, which is separated from Turkey by a 10-kilometre channel.
An Afghan mother holds her child moments after landing on the beach near Skala Sykaminia. UNHCR and its partners work to prevent family separations and create safe areas for women and children who are particularly vulnerable.
An Afghan family of several generations disembark from an overcrowded boat. Almost 40 per cent of refugees currently arriving on Lesvos are from Afghanistan.
UNHCR is working around the clock with other agencies and aid groups, stockpiling and distributing winter aid items to keep vulnerable people, both in camps and urban settings, protected and warm. Donate money to the UNCHR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) here.
• The distribution of winter survival kits including high thermal blankets, sleeping bags, winter clothes, heating stoves, and gas supplies.
• The provision of emergency shelters including family tents, refugee housing units and emergency reception facilities.
• Improvement of reception and transit centers and preparing and supporting families for winter conditions.
You can help make a difference. Donate money to the UNCHR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) here.
A relieved Afghan family, clearly still suffering from the trauma of a rough sea crossing at the hands of people smugglers, disembarks from a flimsy vessel onto a Lesvos beach.
An Afghan mother hugs her child and cries with relief after arriving on Lesvos.
Survivors struggle ashore after their boat has capsized. In the background a Spanish lifeguard, one of the many volunteers working on the beach, swims out to help other survivors.
A Syrian father, his two children now safely wrapped in thermal blankets, looks to the heavens in thanks after landing safely on the beach.
A young Afghan boy with his aunt. His mother is receiving emergency medical treatment after she collapsed upon landing. Since August UNHCR, in close cooperation with the Greek authorities and other humanitarian actors, has considerably stepped up its activities to respond to the increasing needs. This is even more imperative with the onset of winter.
Volunteers prepare to wrap a young girl in an emergency blanket to protect her from the cold wind.
Read ‘War Survivor Focuses Lens on Refugees‘ about Duley’s work in Greece. Reacquaint yourself with the ‘Lesvos: Crossing to Safety‘ feature. Read a review ‘How Many Stories Can You Tell In One Second?‘ of Duley’s new book One Second of Light.
My list of fave photobooks is the Vantage list of fave photobooks. I noted the subheader should read: How four books mailed to the author and two other books he bought in crowdfunding campaigns made the grade
THE ANOINTED ONES
Fan by Rian Dundon (Modes Vu)
A Lebanese Archive by Ania Dabrowska (Bookworks + Arab Image Foundation)
Deadline by Will Steacy (b.frank books)
In The Vale of Cashmere by Thomas Roma (Powerhouse)
Law & Order by Jan Banning
Pony Congo by Vicente Paredes (This Book Is True)
I’m perplexed by how exactly the photo-world goes about constructing its holiday exhortations. So much so that Joachim Schmid’s polite takedown of the Photobook-Industrial-Complex is just the best thing.
READ THE FULL REASON BEHIND THE LIST HERE
Paccarik Orue. BS Ice Cream, I Love Ice Cream, 2010. From the series ‘There is Nothing Beautiful Around Here.’
When mentioning, yesterday, that the Status Update book is now on sale, I listed the press thus far. Hours after I published that post, Michael Shaw published his own — a review of the show at Reading The Pictures. More accurately a review of the edit of images within the projects.
Shaw’s review, titled Silicon Valley in the Mirror pairs some images and makes juxtaposition between others. It’s full of the pep and the frenetic keen-eyed we’ve come to expect of RTP articles.
I think Shaw is being deliberately provocative putting Silicon Valley front and center of the title and piece; he knows Rian Dundon, Catchlight and I wanted to create a show that went beyond the “tech narratives” but Shaw, to be fair, makes good points to say that all aspects of this Bay Area region are (knowlingly or unknowingly) in response or conversation with tech monies, people, culture and economies.
On Talia Herman‘s photographs of her family and his comment that “the symptom on the flip side of the [tech] boom is narcolepsy” I reckon Shaw misinterpreted the images and our curation. If there’s a slowness in the countryside and in the last embers of counter culture, it’s still a chosen sleepier pace; a calm, not a fatigue.
I love, though, what Shaw had to say about Paccarik Orue‘s portrait of a Sikh ice-cream vendor in Richmond:
“So much for virtual reality and commodification. In Orue’s photo, a sense of place (and respectful commerce, too) comes from identity and ritual, faith and ethnicity, as well as all the old flavors of the neighborhood.”
WARM OFF THE PRESSES
Hey y’all, the Status Update publication is now on sale.
A perfect-bound, 128-page, softcover book featuring the work by Lily Chen, Janet Delaney, Sergio De La Torre, Rian Dundon, Robert Gumpert, Pendarvis Harshaw, Talia Herman, Elizabeth Lo, Laura Morton, Paccarik Orue, Brandon Tauszik, Joseph Rodriguez, Dai Sugano and Sam Wolson.
Introduction by Raj Jayadev, coordinator for Silicon Valley De-Bug and an interview with San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
5.5 x 8.5 inches
Edition of 1,000 (November 2015)
Designed by the genius Bonnie Briant.
Produced by Catchlight, Status Update curated by Rian Dundon and myself is an exhibition of photography and video about change, chance and inequality in the San Francisco Bay Area. It premiered at SOMArts in San Francisco in November 2015 and will travel throughout the SF Bay Area throughout 2016.
So far, so good. The show got some great coverage.
Laurence Butet-Roch reflected for Time: Witness the Complex Evolution of the San Francisco Bay Area
California Sunday Magazine gave us a showing: Long Exposure: New Exhibit Captures Residents Experiencing the Boom and Bust of the Bay Area
Mark Murrmann wrote a glowing preview for Mother Jones: These Photos Show the Bay Area You’ll Never See From a Google Bus
Stanford Ethics students got to grips with the show: Adjusting our Focus: the Tech Boom through a Different Lens
Mashable threw down a gallery: Photos Capture Inequality and Change in San Francisco Bay Area
Wired offered great support with Laura Mallonee‘s feature: Capturing the Bay Area’s Diversity — and Rapid Change
Erin Baldassari for the East Bay Express reviewed the show with focus on Oakland-based artists: Beyond Black and White: Nuanced Ways of Documenting the Housing Crisis
Silicon Valley DeBug, with whom we partnered in the show posted for their committed South Bay community and following.
And finally, I was interviewed by Doug Bierend for Vice: ‘Status Update’ Captures the Evolution of the Bay Area
GET IT NOW
The book’s going to last longer than any of the prints and beyond next years traveling exhibit. Whether it will last as long as the issues that are percolating here in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, we’ll see …