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 In this November 2006 photo from Jeremy Rue's fellowship-winning portfolio, a girl and her younger brother outside a farm worker camp in Huron. Housing like this becomes crowded during lettuce season, as migrants flood the town looking for work. (Jeremy Rue photo)
farmworker  Slide show: 2007 Dorothea Lange Fellow

Lange photography fellowship awarded to J-School student

| 08 February 2007

Photographs of farm workers in the fields, orchards, and labor camps of California's Central Valley are the winning work of Jeremy Rue, a student at the Graduate School of Journalism who has been named this year's winner of the Dorothea Lange Fellowship, administered by Public Affairs.

Mimi Chakarova, a lecturer in photography at the journalism school and a 2003 Lange winner, recommended Rue for the prize. "This is a story that goes beyond journalism," she says of Rue and his photos. "It's about someone whose past is very much linked to what he photographs."

Rue's maternal grandparents emigrated to California from Mexico and briefly worked in the fields like the men and women in his photos. But Rue said agricultural life was largely unknown to him until he started working at newspapers in the San Joaquin Valley farming towns of Selma and Madera. "It was during these experiences that I became familiar with the human condition of migrant farm workers and interested in the larger scope of a community often overlooked," he says.

After Rue came to Berkeley, immigration became an increasingly hot national topic, and he decided to return to the valley to document the lives of farm workers in Fresno County towns like Wasco, Delano, and Avenal.


women farm workers prepare for the lettuce harvest near Huron, Calif., wearing face cloths to protect themselves from cold, sun, and dust. Over time, various styles of face wear - now a trademark of female lettuce workers - have been popular. (Jeremy Rue photo)
 

Rue plans to concentrate his fellowship work on the town of Huron, on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, where the population triples during lettuce season. Rue views life in the town as emblematic of the experiences of California's farm workers, whose aspirations in life, he wrote in his entry for the Lange competition, "are not unlike those of many Americans.... Many come from Mexico to the United States under illicit circumstances and find themselves in marginalized communities."

A big fan of Lange, Rue says his goal is to help society empathize with the mostly hidden culture of these farm workers by giving those who see his photos a more complete view of the agricultural system.

In interviewing his grandparents as part of the research for this project, Rue says, he was surprised by the recollections of his grandmother, Petra Sanchez. "Her reaction was almost nostalgic, and I sensed in her almost a yearning for the tight-knit community that many migrant workers have in looking out for each other."

Although Rue began his project shooting black-and-white, medium-format photos, he said he switched to a Canon EOS 1D Mark II digital camera because it better captures the vivid colors he encountered.

"Color draws a more modern, contemporary feel," Rue says. "It also conveys a more realistic approach - this is what a person would see if he or she were standing in my shoes."