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.