Client: Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism
This is a second collaboration between CCIJ and the one person, single issue nonprofit newsroom of SJV Water that examined the issue of corporate agriculture’s excessive pumping of underground water sources that compromised sustainability in California’s Central Valley - in particular the livelihoods of small family farmers.
At the outset, the goals of this project seemed simple and obvious enough - find those affected by the consequences of this overpumping and tell their story. As our dogged reporter Lois Henry said, “these companies make millions off the backs of a lot of people who don’t benefit from the success.” In fact, many of them suffer more because of their work due to the severe consequences of a lack of water throughout the valley. That story angle was quickly dashed when photographer Ryan Christopher Jones ran headfirst into resistance in gaining access to farmers and farm workers. We had a couple weeks to complete the project but when you’re denied access after several days of trying it’s time to pivot.
The pivot we made turned to look at this more from the perspective of the land as the protagonist as the stage on which the narrative plays out but also the end of the road of the consequences of the way people impact the landscape as a means of resource extraction. This opened up the door to a much more evocative and intriguing portfolio fo images that gave personification to the inanimate spaces from broad landscapes to the impact of a single walnut to discarded implements of farm and water infrastructure.
My vision in the edit was to emphasize the relationship between people and land, to create parallels across images and build visual and substantive connections between these varied elements. I wanted to take the audience on an informative and emotional journey through the consequences of overpumping and push this rather technical question whose source is literally buried deep in the earth into a vital and impactful space. In working with our Design Lead we took the concept one step further by making the portraits of the farmers small in context of the landscape. This was an intent to minimize presence of the people in the presentation as and to emphasize that people are but temporary users of the land which has been here since the beginning of time and will be here well after we potentially push its usefulness to us beyond redemption.
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