"MIGRANT WATER CARRIERS"
Washington County, Oregon
Early Summer 1973, Dykes Camp
Cucumbers. Acres of cucumbers in the rich turd brown fields of Washington County, Oregon picked by migrant farm laborers. Chicanos mostly, who came up from Mexico to live in smallish plywood shacks built by such landowners as Ron Tankersley, who told me, "families, sometimes over a dozen children, all lived together in square, a 20x20 foot one room plywood shacks." Later, he served jail time, according to an article published on May 6, 1989 in the Eugene Register Guard for using illegal contractors.
I was there to take pictures of them-- and here in the Land of Opportunity they were all seemingly proud. But these scenes resembled another America to me, going back in time to the 1930s or before. Bathrooms, water and cooking facilities were outside the campground shacks.
I was hired to document these conditions and also, to record their stories. And so, in 1974, I took my Nikon cameras, lenses and my new Sony audio cassette recorder with me to the migrant farms, out to the fields, up close to show the back-breaking reality these people endured."
I always traveled in cars driven by Chicanos who knew the farms and conditions, who now were living here permanently, and who spoke English. They had once picked in these fields and now were guides taking me to these choice areas to make documentary photographs. My principal guide for several of the cucumber field photos was a young 22 year old Chicano, Amador Arturo, who was living outside of Forest Grove, in an isolated rural highland area. He carried with him one of the pocket books from the famous “Tales of Don Juan” trilogy and was quite outspoken. He didn't trust the American culture and over a period of months became more withdrawn into his own Chicano culture. But, during these days of my project had the time to be my guide and wanted to take me to the hot spots.
We would arrive at these fields in the morning, ready to rock and roll. I recall the fields appeared vast to me, and unending sea of cucumbers with Migrant pickers could be seen across the landscape, all of them working in unison. This was not a picnic. I wanted to show the immensity, the large scale of the operation and went into the fields to work up close. Standing in the dirt, the pickers were shown up close as they bent down towards the ground. The effect of the wide angle lens was that the rows of pickers would rapidly disappear into the backdrop of the fields. Marching forward through the rows of workers, I found many pictures. Sometimes a single worker would be featured, so that they filled the frame of my camera. I used hand gestures rather attempted dialog, worked quickly and grabbed shots as they occurred. Then with my 300mm telephoto, I focused on individual laborers so that the background became compressed, the far reaches of the fields now right upon their backs, the workers in sharp detail. Young children, perhaps seven or eight year old beamed at me and I snapped lots of photos of them from the ground looking up so that they appeared to be giants. All of the workers were proud of their work and it showed in these photos.
My documentary image was made utilizing a Nikon F film camera. The detail is enhanced by my use of an ultra sharp 24mm Nikkor wide angle lens. The exposure was made on Kodak Tri-X film. The original negatives have been kept in dark storage and are in pristine condition.
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