More Black Than White – photos by Jon Lewis
Commentary by LeRoy Chatfield
In 1966, photographer Jon Lewis (1938-2009) came to visit the Delano Grape Strike before leaving for a photo assignment at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival – and he stayed for a year.
In all, he shot more than 2500 photos during 1966 – strikers, picket lines, meetings, marches, union leadership, volunteers, rallies, farm labor camps, children, union facilities, boycotts, union secret ballot elections, visiting dignitaries, field labor, and anything else that caught his eye. For this he was paid strikers’ wages of $5 per week spending money, a place to bunk, and three meals a day at the strike kitchen. He raised his own money to pay for film, camera and darkroom equipment and supplies. More than 1700 of these photos have been published in the Jon Lewis online gallery at www.farmworkermovement.us
Jon died shortly before Christmas in 2009 and was unable to complete printing the rest of his portfolio. The Yale Beinecke Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts had recently contracted with Jon to acquire his work about Cesar Chavez and the farmworker movement, and after his death everything was shipped to the Yale library. I expect that by the middle of 2011, his entire portfolio will be made available to scholars and the interested public.
I have selected 55 photos from Jon’s online gallery to demonstrate the results of a photo technique he sometimes used to accent the black at the expense of the white in order to dramatize – sometimes playfully – the images he sought to portray. You will see his use of shadow, silhouettes, candlelight or night light, blackout background and black framing . Not being a camera buff myself, I assume these effects were created by manipulating camera settings and dark room enhancements, but there may be more involved.
Elsewhere I have observed that, in my view, Jon Lewis was the most gifted photographer ever to set foot in the farmworker movement and I believe these photos “More Black Than White” help make my point.