Monday, September 25, 2023
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Free and open to the public
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Washington State has one of the largest Mexican American farmworker communities in the United States. Over a ten-year period, commercial photographer Irwin Nash documented the lives, struggles, hopes, and dreams of the Yakima Valley migrant farmworker community. Nash’s collection brings to light the farmworkers’ experiences and perspectives of organizing for better and equitable working conditions.
There are an estimated 9,300 images in the Irwin Nash Photographs of Yakima Valley Migrant Labor Collection, the bulk of which are on more than 300 individual sets of film strip negatives and corresponding contact print proof sheets containing as many as 36 images each. These images document the Latinx experience in the Yakima Valley and agricultural protest movements in Washington state between 1967 and 1976, and approximately 100 of those images were initially presented here in this digital collection (a 2021 project is underway to digitize the entire collection). The images in the collection explore Latinx life in and around migrant worker labor camps and in the agricultural fields, and depict labor activist Cesar Chavez visiting the Yakima Valley on several occasions. The collection also depicts figures that were eventually involved in protests in and around Seattle and the University of Washington, including grape boycotts and other issues relating to agricultural workers.
Irwin Nash is a documentary photographer who chose his own assignments. He was a Seattle, Washington native and received his undergraduate degree at the University of Washington. His first trip to the Yakima Valley was to the Ahtanum Labor Camp, where he photographed the Latinxs and the conditions that they lived in at the camp. He also went to the Crewport labor camp near Zillah, Washington, and made several subsequent return trips to the Yakima area. An oral history interview conducted with Nash in 1989 offers some insight into this work, and when asked in 2021 why he did these types of projects, Nash stated that “I wanted to call attention to the plight of a segment of the population that has never received the recognition and compensation merited by their contribution to our society.”