•  Cultivating Creativity:
  •    The Arts and the Farm Workers' Movement During the 1960s and '70s

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    As part of the farm workers’ struggle of the 1960s, photographers began to record the events and personalities involved in the movement. Photographs revealed the plight of those who worked for so little under harsh conditions and garnered sympathy in a way that words could not. Jacob Riis had virtually invented documentary photography sixty years before with his famous book, How the Other Half Lives. His far-reaching images of immigrants living in wretched conditions in New York City shed light on the lives of those at the bottom of society. Likewise, the depiction of depression-weary Dust Bowl migrants or “Okies” by Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and others during the 1930s led to a consciousness-raising. Continuing this tradition, photographers covering the farm workers movement of the 1960s and ‘70s exposed a way of life many Americans did not know existed. The photographs documented the filthy housing conditions and the pesticides and violence used by the growers to quell the union movement.

    Are these documentary photographs also art? With art photography, the emphasis is on aesthetics with scenes carefully posed. Here the overwhelming need is to capture the information and aesthetics has to be secondary. Yet these photos employ light and shadow, delicate composition, and juxtaposition of images to provoke emotion and thought. The images have the power to change a viewer’s worldview and prompt recognition of inherent beauty. In this sense, they are undeniably artistic statements.

    Art and Artifacts from the Collections of the Labor Archives and Research Center

    Copyright © 2007 Labor Archives and Research Center | J. Paul Leonard Library | San Francisco State University
    Credits and Contacts | Last Updated January 17, 2006