Fine Art and Documentary Photographer Jacque Rupp is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From the project ‘The Unseen’. To see Jacque’s body of work, click on any image.
“The Unseen” explores the daily lives of farm workers in Central California, who play a critical role in putting food on our dinner tables. This project began with my concern around the immigration situation, which had become so politically charged these past few years. I had been driving by the farms regularly and realized I knew nothing about the figures I saw stooped over in the fields. It was time to get close and humanize this population of “unseen” workers. I began to photograph the workers, many of whom are Latino immigrants, and who, in addition to working 12-hour days, 6 days a week, struggle with cultural dissonance, poverty, discrimination, health issues and language barriers. I saw these difficulties, but I also saw a tremendous sense of pride in what they do. We call them “unskilled” labor–how derogatory. What was most disturbing was that I saw a sense of fear in being seen, and a sense of personal safety in blending into the background. It’s a dirty secret we all live with.
When COVID impacted our nation, my focus shifted to a concern for the workers and the small farm growers. The food was there, the need was here, but the supply chain was broken. At first, food was rotting in the fields, there was no work, and people were scared. They were scared about the effects of the virus and about the future of their livelihoods. Then things began to change. We all need food. Many new local distribution systems emerged. And nationally the narrative began to change. These “unskilled” workers were beginning to be recognized as “essential” workers. We were seeing them take risks going to the fields to help put food on our tables. There were less concerns around immigration issues, more concerns about getting food our tables. We were beginning to see them as heroes.
All images and text © Jacque Rupp
By Jacque Rupp
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Unskilled workers are also essential workers. That’s the point, isn’t it?
“Unskilled” is not the same as “non-essential”.
I grew up in California, and the migrant workers who worked in the fields were no “dirty little secret.” The reality is that some liberals just lately discovered them. Migrant workers are not the same as illegals. They contract to come up from Mexico to work and go back home after the season is over. It is not a political situation. Illegal aliens who enter the country illegally are law breakers and should be dealt with as such. Most of these people are not refugees, they are coming here for work and will tell you as much. This has become a politicized situation due to the motives of politicians and their political parties (both parties), but is, in reality, a legal situation. ALL WORKERS ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE ECONOMY. To designate any worker as non-essential is to demean his/her contribution to society and to denigrate certain forms of work. What the politicians did in this regard was wrong.