Photographer Confronts Race, Privilege Documenting the Lives of California Farmworkers

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Thumbnail image for nahmias book.jpgIn the winter of 2002, Rick Nahmias set out to answer a question that should probe every person living in this country: what is the human cost of feeding America? 

There are many ways to attempt to answer that question.  You can look at the numerous studies and statistics available on agricultural workers.  You can listen to the inspiring speeches of great labor leaders such as Cesar Chavez.  But Rick Nahmias is an artist and his approach to answering that question involved taking his camera and setting off on a trip to meet and talk with farmworkers and capture their stories in a visual way, putting a human face on some of those most impacted by the immigration debate.

The result of his quest is now available in a new book published by the University of New Mexico Press: The Migrant Project: Contemporary California Farm Workers.  It includes a forward by UFW Co-founder Dolores Huerta.

It’s easy for many of us for whom obtaining food is as simple as making a trip to the nearest supermarket to never think about the human cost of our food, to never see how dependent we are on the workers without whom we would likely starve to death.  Their invisibility in popular culture contributes to the exploitation and abuse that is all too common in the industry. 

That’s why Mr. Nahmias’ images are so powerful.  They do not tell the whole story of the 1.1 million farmworkers living in the state of California.  No one but the workers themselves possibly could, and Nahmias recognizes that.  He is aware of the gulf between his own lived experiences as a white middle class male in the U.S. and those of the workers he photographs and it is exactly the tension between the two, the “searching in earnest” as he calls it, “for the sameness that lies just below our otherness”, for the human connection between those separated by race, class, gender and citizenship status.  It’s not only the randomness of the human experience that is emphasized in the images contained in this book but the inspiring ability for people to reach across such divides and see the humanity in each other.

It's an issue that confronts us every day, whether or not we recognize.  Even an act as simple as eating is political.  When we ask about the human cost of our food we are discovering what we, as a society, have chosen to sacrifice in order to nourish ourselves and the answer maybe quite disturbing.  Are we too willing to sacrifice humanitarianism?  The dignity and welfare of others?  Our claim to egalitarianism: America, the land of opportunity?  Our own humanity?

The photos in the book may provide the hint at answers to those questions.  The Migrant Project is available in bookstores now or can be ordered online through the usual outlets.  A portion of the proceeds of the book go to benefit a variety of farmworker advocacy organizations.

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This page contains a single entry by lividsnails published on April 24, 2008 9:35 AM.

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