It takes a lot to get from Oaxaca to California on foot. Matt Black knows something about this, as he’s spent more than a decade photographing the Mixtec people who regularly make the journey north to California in search of work. It’s a curious fact that the largest Mixtec population outside of Mexico is found in California’s central valley, which is also where Matt Black was born and lives today. His photographs of displaced people are a testament to the communities that make up small towns in the central valley, including those of the Mixtec people. Matt’s larger photographic work with these people carefully considers their culture and the environmental changes that are happening in Mexico, as Mixtec farms and villages are left behind for new homes in California.
Matt Black takes a uniquely humanist approach to documentary photography, investing time every year to be with the Mixtec people—to better understand the complex story that results from their exodus. His work incorporates video and still photographs, drawing viewers in to help us understand the struggle these ancient people face in a globalized world.
Today, thanks to the work of Humane Exposures, (an organization in downtown San Diego that helps bring awareness to social justice issues), Matt’s photographs cover the side of a massive building on F Street between 14th and 15th. The experience of viewing these images in the changing landscape of San Diego’s East Village is a powerful one. They encourage us to think about others whose personal decisions affect our lives every day (positively, let’s be clear), and whose work and individual stories too often go unnoticed.
We asked Matt what it feels like to visit San Diego and witness such an enormous, conspicuous exhibition of his work, literally seen by thousands every day? He told us “To have my work seen in this way in San Diego, so close to the border and along the migrant trail that so many have traversed at such great peril, means much to me. Instead of something small and in the shadows, it’s been made large and public.”
“Large and public” are two words we don’t always associate with documentary photography, yet it may be the most rewarding place an artist such as Matt Black could ask to find their images. The photographer James Nachtwey once said “I’d rather see my work in mass-circulation publications than on the wall of a museum or gallery, because it is there that an audience is most likely to be motivated to change the way they think.”
Matt went on to tell us “…the point of my work in Mexico has been to show the full cost of migration.” This is clear when you consider time he has invested in Mexico and how it is an extension of the world he knows so well—having lived with migrants in California’s central valley for his entire life to date. This experience has allowed him the time to become finely tuned to their lives, concerns, and history, developing a keen understanding of their stories. “That’s been my goal with this work all along,” —a humble way to summarize a project that’s been more than 10 years in the making. Through Matt’s photographs these stories reach a much larger audience, and help to initiative awareness and understanding of a complex global system that we all live within.
Medium is excited to bring Matt Black to share his work at our 2014 Present Tense Lecture Series. We’re building on a long history of exposure for the artist’s work that ranges from National Public Radio to the New Yorker, LENSCRATCH, National Geographic, and more. Best of all, the Matt Black lecture offers you a chance to connect with the artist in person and hear the stories of his work first hand.
Join us on Sunday Oct. 26 at 1:30pm. Registration for the 2014 festival is now open.