Prof. Ken Light’s Feature “The Vanishing Valley” in the NYTsPosted: May 20, 2012
The following article was published today in the New York Times. Ken Light is an Adjunct Professor of Photography at CCSF .The book he co-authored with Melanie Light “Valley of Shadows and Dreams” was released earlier this year with help on the website by CCSFers Laura B. Johnson and Dan Figueroa who worked on the post-production of the images.
By KEN and MELANIE LIGHT
Published: May 19, 2012
For five years, we roamed the Great Central Valley, the agricultural center of California. It is a dream for a photographer and a writer — an amazing mix of startling light, and a kaleidoscope of faces and stories. Like so many of our fellow Californians, we hadn’t really thought about the communities and people that provide our food, or the labor that has made the state what it is.
The valley supplies half of the fruits and vegetables for the United States. Everywhere we turned, people’s stories pulled us in deeper, and their circumstances seemed to get more and more desperate the longer we worked there. We followed the valley’s workers as they stood in a food line in Mendota, danced in Tulare, and sailed out across the San Joaquin River on a rope swing. They are hardworking people, fighting to preserve their livelihoods and traditions.
We saw this fruit bowl of America being planted with its final crop of ticky-tacky cookie-cutter houses and gated communities with homes overlooking artificial lakes. How were these projects approved during a severe drought (which ended in March 2011) and against the growers’ constant requests for more water, more water, and more water? During the years of easy credit, even unskilled laborers in the region were moving into homeownership. After the bust, new homes were left to deteriorate while local residents struggled to find housing in trailers, apartments and even cars.
Humans were not the only ones struggling for a home. The valley is one of the greatest North American flyways for millions of migrating birds, and their nesting ground has been stripped down to contain almost unimaginably big fields of crops that don’t accommodate animal life. The use of pesticides on this scale was mind-boggling. The Central Valley has provided the dream for many, but it is also deeply shadowed.
The issues in the valley are the global challenges of our generation: water, land use, population, growing economic disparity.
Ken Light is a social documentary photographer and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism. Melanie Light is a writer and West Coast editor for La Lettre de la Photographie. Their latest book is “Valley of Shadows and Dreams.” (NYTs)