About Farm Worker Photography

Industrial Agriculture, Union Organizing and Strikers

California Farm Workers Videos

California Farm Workers on Strike
Photo by Katie Peake

Harvey Richards first photographic efforts centered on California farm workers in the late 1950's and 1960's. His films were made from the worker's and union's point of view, designed to help the organizing drives of the United Packing House Workers Union (Factory Farms), the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (The HarvestersUno Veintecinco) and the United Farm Workers (The Land Is Rich). He was not officially sponsored by the unions, doing all of the filming, editing and producing independently.  Once complete, the films were given to organizers for their use.

Designed to bring public support and to help recruit workers, he filmed labor conditions in the fields and living conditions of farm workers up and down the central valley of California. He interviewed workers and put their voices in his films.  His images provide rare glimpses into the reality of the “bracero” or “guest worker” program that imported Mexican nationals into California to work in the fields.

Starting out as a film maker in the late 1950's, Harvey chose California farm workers as his primary focus.  He toured the central valley documenting labor conditions in many crops, following the bracero buses to their destinations, filming packing houses and picket lines, migrant labor camps and families living on the banks of a river.

Like his work in Mississippi, his farm worker documentaries include the voices of the poor telling their own story in the their own words about labor conditions and the impact of pesticides on their health. His documentation of the workers' feelings and thoughts make his works primary sources of information about the era and provide insights into the minds and hearts of the working poor.

California Farm Workers Photo Images

Harvey Richards' agricultural worker photography is collected in ten photo image galleries which captured the look and feel of a formative moment in the creation of industrial agriculture in the central valley of California (1957 to 1966.) He began photographing California agriculture while making his first films for the United Packing House Workers organizers, Factory Farms (1959) and The Harvesters (1960).

He toured the central valley documenting many crops.  He followed bracero workers from Mexico to the fields, into their barracks and dining halls. He photographed resident farm workers in the early morning shape-ups where labor contractors were hiring, in the labor camps and in their homes.  He photographed child labor in the fields and the long lines at soup kitchens when there was no work. And he photographed the wave of mechanization that swept over the central valley as growers prepared for the end of the bracero program.

Next, he turned his attention to farm worker strikes led by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO and later for the United Farm Workers Union. He photographed strikers during the 1962 strike for $1.25 per hour in the lettuce fields of Imperial County and Fresno County (Uno Veintecinco), the grape strike of 1965 and the United Farm Worker's Union march to Sacramento in 1966 (The Land is Rich).

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