Viewfinder: Kingdom of Dust

From fertial farmland to dust fields, Matt Black has documented the changing landscape of his native Tulare County, California, for 20 years. 

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Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your background.
MB: I’m from the Central Valley of California, and I grew up outside of the town of Visalia.  When I was in high school, I got a summer job in the darkroom of a local newspaper.  That’s how I started with photography.  

Plum harvest. Kingsburg, California.

 

DY: You’ve stayed close to your childhood home, which seems like an increasingly rare choice these days.  Why did you choose to stay in the rural Central Valley?
MB: Because I am fascinated by it.  Doing this kind of photography is very demanding, and it’s really important for me to work on subjects I care about.

Fishing in an irrigation canal. Corcoran, California.  

 

DY: How have you seen the area change since you were young?
MB: There are more people and there’s less water.

Texas migrant in her yard. Teviston, California.

 

DY: In the series Kingdom of Dust, you take on gargantuan issues – drought, modern agriculture, poverty – with incredible specificity.  How do you take these big ideas and make intimate images?
MB: You let the idea guide you to people and places to photograph.  It’s an exploration and you never know with any specificity where it’s going to lead, but the things you find along the way will lead you there if you are patient and follow things out.

Riding to work in a farm labor bus. Fresno, California.

 

DY: When and why did you start the Kingdom of Dust series?
MB: I started after I finished school, in the mid-1990s.  It’s all about trying to engage with the place and explore these ideas.

Boy with an old farm truck. Teviston, California.

 

DY: The photos in Kingdom of Dust are black and white, and taken with film.  Why?
MB: That’s the kind of photography I learned when I began and I’ve seen no reason to change.  It suits me.  I’m using digital more now but the basic visual approach remains the same.

Sheep at dawn. Firebaugh, California.

 

DY: Does your upbringing in the region where you currently live and take pictures affect your process or the pictures you take?  Do you think it helps you get closer to your subjects?  Does it add emotional weight to your photos?
MB: Everyone has their own way of relating to things, but I think the important thing is to work on subjects that you care about and connect with it some way.  It’s that simple, really.  The critical thing is that you connect with what’s in front of you and have something to say.  So in my case, in the Central Valley, I have a lot to say and I feel an obligation to keep at it.

Weeding cotton. Allensworth, California.

 

 

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