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.