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Everyone Had Cameras

Photography and Farmworkers in California, 1850–2000

2008
Author:

Richard Steven Street

Everyone Had Cameras

The relationship between California farmworkers and the photographers who have documented their lives

American photographers have been fascinated by the lives of California farmworkers since the time of the daguerreotype. Deftly weaving the remarkable diversity of field photography into this story of labor activism, Everyone Had Cameras establishes a new history of California photography while chronicling the impact that this visual medium—called by some the common currency of modern dialogue—has had on a vast, dispossessed class of American workers.

Everyone Had Cameras is an awesome achievement in the annals of photographic history and the American West.

Mark Arax, author of The King of California

American photographers have been fascinated by the lives of California farmworkers 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 farmworkers in California have had a complicated and continuously changing bond. In Everyone Had Cameras, Richard Steven Street provides a comprehensive history of the significant presence of California farmworkers in the visual culture of America.

Street’s account spans 150 years and sheds a new perspective on some of America’s photographic masters, such as Carleton E. Watkins, Ansel Adams, and Dorothea Lange, and brings to light heretofore unknown and unheralded work by perceptive amateurs, socially committed journeymen, digital documentarians, commercial propagandists, and left-wing critics. Through their artistry, these figures powerfully revealed—and at times obscured—the human cost of industrial agriculture and cheap food. Photographers are deeply embedded in the farmworker story, Street shows, and it cannot be understood without paying attention to their ever-evolving vision. Indeed, cameras are so prevalent on picket lines and at strikes and demonstrations that it is normal to see not only photojournalists but also police, protesters, and growers awaiting a decisive—or incriminating—moment to capture.

Deftly weaving the remarkable diversity of field photography into this story of labor activism, Everyone Had Cameras establishes a new history of California photography while chronicling the impact that this visual medium—called by some the common currency of modern dialogue—has had on a vast, dispossessed class of American workers.

Everyone Had Cameras

Richard Steven Street is founder, owner, and manager of Streetshots agricultural photography, a former Ailsa Mellon Bruce Senior Fellow at the National Gallery of Art, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, and currently a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow. He has devoted the past thirty years to creating and studying the visual record of rural California. He is the author of Beasts of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769–1913; Photographing Farmworkers in California; Organizing for Our Lives: New Voices from Rural Communities; A Kern County Diary: The Forgotten Photographs of Carleton E. Watkins; and the forthcoming Knife Fight City and Other Essays: An Independent Life Adrift in the California Agro-industry at Millennium’s End.

Everyone Had Cameras

Everyone Had Cameras is an awesome achievement in the annals of photographic history and the American West.

Mark Arax, author of The King of California

A powerful book that simultaneously analyzes and celebrates the act of photographing in a way that anyone who has ever picked up a camera with serious intent can understand.

David H. Wells, photographer

If the photographs that Richard Street has chosen to illustrate Everyone Had Cameras are, as he writes in the preface, ‘poems without words,’ he provides the words that turn the labors of Dorothea Lange, Otto Hagel, Hansel Mieth, and their colleagues into an historical epic. This book does for contemporary citizens what Edward R. Murrow’s ‘Harvest of Shame’ did fifty years ago.

Melvyn Dubofsky, author of Hard Work

A work of remarkable breadth.

Choice

This is a dense book with few rivals, even in the area of urban studies. Clearly the author knows the reality of the farm workers’ conditions and the politics that revolve around them. Extensive notes reveal the depth of research that has gone into producing this exceptional study.

Choice

Richard Steven Street documents not only farm workers’ history in California, he assembles a history of photography in his monumental history, Everyone Had Cameras. His research skills are on brilliant display.

News Photographer

Compelling. . . . [Everyone had Cameras] speaks to anyone with an interest in California, photography, history, or labor. And it reminds us all of where our images come from, why they’re so moving, how difficult it is to make them work for us, and what the consequences are as we engage with them.

Contexts

This definitive work will influence scholarship within its field for years to come.

The American Historical Review

Everyone Had Cameras is a remarkable, timely book. Street brings together a startling array of photographs of California farm workers, establishing a continuity of image-making beginning in the earliest years of photography in the American West. From this tradition spring two iconic representations of farm laborers—the Dust bowl-era Okie and the present-day, Hispanic migrant worker. Street performs important work by making the migrant worker visible, not only giving this large population a history but also tracing the engagement of these workers by photographers increasingly committed to this social justice cause.

American Studies

This is an extraordinary book. Street writes as a participant-observer, a photographer, and a scholar. But his passion and his own personal politics—made particularly evident toward the end of the book—never impede his ability to write clear, powerful history. Indeed, his deep, thirty-year engagement with this project gives his book much of its scholarly and literary power.

Western Historical Quarterly

Street’s book is not just a book of history. It is a book of ideology with a distinctive, informed point of view by a passionate scholar and photographer who is determined to ensure that farmworkers and those who photograph their labors are taken seriously.

American Journalism

Everyone Had Cameras is an important book that challenges class-biased definitions of beauty, recognizes problems of audience and outlets, and sees the intertwined practice of photography and citizenship. It makes one wish that the hands that hold today’s ubiquitous cameras and upload thousands of images would somehow slow down their solipsistic pursuit long enough to see others’ ‘hard thing.’

College Art Association Reviews

Everyone Had Cameras

Contents

Preface
List of Abbreviations

PART I ORIGINS AND PATTERNS, 1767-1934

1. Before Photography: Images from the Era of Conquest and Colonization
2. Competing Visions: Photography and Painting
3. An Old Master in a New Place: Carleton E. Watkins in the Fields
4. Progressive Photography Takes Hold: Strikes, Murders, and Mexicans
5. An Attitude of Engagement: Photography Takes the Side of the Poor
6. Photography and the Great Depression: A New Way of Seeing

PART II THE EMERGENCE OF THE SOCIAL DOCUMENTARY TRADITION, 1935-1942

7. Facing People as Human Beings: Dorothea Lange Finds Her Calling
8. Under the Most Trying Conditions: Lange’s Reports on Migrants and Dust Bowl Refugees
9. Don’t Let Them Break Your Camera: Migrant Mother and the Dispossessed
10. Photo Eye on Salinas: Press Photographers and the Salinas Valley Lettuce Packers’ Strikes
11. Always One of Your People: Lange Hits the Road
12. A Record of Human Erosion: Lange in the American Southwest
13. Facts and Fiction: An American Exodus andThe Grapes of Wrath

PART III THE PERSISTENCE OF DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY, 1942 - 1963

14. Photographs of Truth and Propaganda: Documentary Continuity and Perversion
15 Poverty in the Valley of Plenty: Suppression of the Documentary Ideal
16. Rented Slaves: The Resurgence of Documentary Photography
17. Photography and César Chávez’s Farmworker Struggle: Activists with Cameras

PART IV EVERYONE HAD CAMERS, 1965 - 2005

18. The Delano Grape Strike and Boycott:Freelancers Step Forward
19. A Spirit of Hope among People: Photographers as Organizers
20. Icons of Struggle: Photographing Thugs and Violence
21. News Photographers Take Over: Elections and Riots in California
22. Photographing the Human Condition: Undocumented Workers, Pesticides, and Farmworker Communities
23. Photographers and Farmworkers Today: Toward a Global Language

Acknowledgments
Notes

Index