The Valley/El Valle: Photo-essays from California’s Heartland

The San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries presents
The Valley/El Valle: Photo-essays from California’s Heartland

Dance in Lost Hills by Sam Comen.

Sam Comen, Jose Saldaña and Sandy Melendez share a dance in Lost Hills, CA, October 29, 2011.

On view June 17-October 17, 2014

San Francisco City Hall
Ground Floor Exhibition
North Light Court Banners
40 Downtown Kiosk Posters

Panel Discussion: Tuesday, August 12, 6 – 7:30pm

In Lost Hills, California, a young man wearing the traditional clothing of a Mexican cowboy holds his partner close, sheltering her under his large sombrero, as they dance on a dirt surface, illuminated and full of all the hope and power of youth. Guest Curator Ann Jastrab, Rayko Photo Center gallery director, encountered this image by Sam Comen as she was culling through hundreds of photographs depicting contemporary life in the Central Valley for the SFAC Galleries’ latest exhibition, The Valley/El Valle: Photo-essays from California’s Heartland. The exhibition is comprised of nine photo-essays, two of which are historical and include images from the 1970s during the height of California’s farm labor movement. Featuring 100 photographs, The Valley/El Valle will be on view in San Francisco’s City Hall and in 40 downtown JCDecaux kiosk posters from June 17 to September 19, 2014.

Diego Luna’s recent biopic, Cesar Chavez, brings the story of the late civil rights leader’s struggle to organize 50,000 migrant farm workers in California to life and comes at a time when immigration reform is the focus of much public debate.  In The Valley/El Valle visitors will see images of the real Chávez captured by a then-twenty year old Mimi Plumb who began documenting farm workers when she was an undergraduate student. Unlike Luna’s film, which has been criticized for omitting the contributions of other ethnic groups to the Farm Labor Movement, The Valley/El Valle presents a more diverse look at the state’s breadbasket. The historic photographs from the 1970s by Plumb and Lou Dematteis show a variety of communities engaged in the physical labor as well as the protests. In 1975 Dematteis captured United Farm Workers marching 110 miles from San Francisco to E&J Gallo Winery in Modesto. There were only a few hundred that began the march in San Francisco, however more than 15,000 people joined the procession by the time it reached the rally in Modesto.

Non-agricultural-related themes are also presented, such as Antonio Olmos’ essay chronicling a community’s fascination with boxing as a way of escape. Additionally, ten large scale photographic banners located in City Hall’s North Light Court will display a series of sweeping landscapes by Charlotte Niel that give perspective and context to the more intimate photo-essays located on the ground floor.

For the exhibition, Jastrab was granted special access to the San Francisco Chronicle’s photography archive by Judy Walgren, director of photography. The Valley/El Valle features twenty diverse prints taken by staff photographers over the past decade. The Chronicle images serve to emphasize the diverse citizens and lifestyles in the Central Valley and include subjects such as members of a mosque in prayer, Hmong dancers and rodeo stars.


The Valley/El Valle: Photo-essays from California’s Heartland

Exhibition Dates: June 17 – September 19, 2014

San Francisco City Hall: Ground Floor + North Light Court banners
40 Downtown Kiosk posters

Artists: Matt Black, Sam Comen, Lou Dematteis, Francisco Dominguez, Kathya Landeros,
Ken and Melanie Light, Charlotte Niel, Antonio Olmos, Mimi Plumb
Plus a collection if images from the San Francisco Chronicle photography archive

Curated by Ann Jastrab

Special Events (free and open to the public)

Tuesday, June 17
Opening Reception with Curator-led Walkthrough
SF City Hall, ground floor

Tour:  5 p.m.
Reception:  5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, August 12, 6 – 7:30 p.m.
Panel Discussion: SF Public Library Main Branch, Koret Auditorium

The Valley is generously supported in part by Grants for the Arts / SF Hotel Tax Fund.

Press Coverage:

SF Examiner, Leslie Katz, July 10, 2014 (review)
KQED, Kristin Farr, July 9, 2014 (review)
El Tecolote, Iñaki Fdez. De Retana, July 3, 2014 (bi-lingual review)
San Francisco Chronicle, Sam Whiting, June 27, 2014 (short review)
Mission Local, Joe Rivano Barros, June 19, 2014 (review)
SFGate, June 18, 2014 (weekly pick)
ABC, Channel 7 News, June 17, 2014 (tv news segment and write-up)
The Bold Italic, Sarah Han, June 12, 2014 (Sam Comen profile)
SF Examiner, Lauren Gallagher, May 29 (summer arts preview)
Valley VoiceMay 15 (profile of Matt Black, page 23)
National Geographic, Eve Conant, June 14, 2014 (profile of Matt Black – a happy coincidence)
San Francisco Chronicle, Sam Whiting, July 21, 2013 (Mimi Plumb profile)





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