Through his committed images, photojournalist Matt Black questions the links between poverty and territory.
Salinas, CA. Weeding strawberries. Salinas has a population of 150,441 and 20.5% live below the poverty level. Ninety percent of California’s farm laborers are undocumented immigrants. It costs $3,000 – $5,000 for a migrant to be smuggled across the US/Mexican border. The average income for a farm laborer in California is under $10,000 per year. “I borrowed money to get here, and I couldn’t pay it back,” said Rufino Ventura, 40. “I was stressed, and I lost a lot. Families break apart.”
When you think of California, the images that come to us in the head are often the sun, Coachella, road trips and women hair in the wind in wide open spaces. These photos have been seen and reviewed and we have shaped our collective imagination. Yet the social reality of this region is quite different. This is what photographer Matt Black shows us, exploring the links between migration, poverty, agriculture and the environment in rural areas like California. He was very interested in the Central Valley, a particularly disadvantaged region of the state, one of the poorest in the United States, from which the photographer originated. He explains :
“When I started photography, my goal was to get out of the Central Valley, but it seemed obvious to me that if I had something important to say, it would be on where I came from . […] This region is a kind of vast unknown area, one of the richest regions in the richest country in the world, half-way between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, yet there are still very difficult living conditions, where the poorest communities live with poor roads, dirty water, bad schools and polluted air. ”
Territory and social inequalities
In a series titled The Dry Land, he asked about the impact of drought on farming communities. Through these clichés, it shows another face of California, a territory touched closely by global warming and where social inequalities are striking and too rarely brought to light. In the same vein, he also realized a global project called The Geography of Poverty, where he traveled more than 44 American states to discover how the territory could influence the economic and social situation.
His exciting photographs, both in terms of form and substance, have been recognized internationally on several occasions and he has already received the prestigious World Press Photography Award in 1993 in the “Daily Life” category. Sharing his images on Instagram, the photographer shows us the hidden face of California. To follow closely.
Bellingham, Washington. An image from a worker’s cell phone. “They think we come to this country to take jobs. But if you analyze it, it’s not that. Go out to the raspberry fields and see.” A Mixtec immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, prunes berries in a storm. “Who else is going to work for minimum wage, on their knees, in the rain, all year round?”