Central Valley’s past, present seen in photos 

click to enlarge Lou Dematteis
  • Courtesy Lou Dematteis
  • Lou Dematteis’ picture of the United Farmer Workers huge march in 1975 is among the fascinating images on view in “The Valley/El Valle” at City Hall.
Provocative, historical, compelling, beautiful, educational and intriguing: These adjectives describe the images collected in “The Valley/El Valle.”

The show of about 100 documentary-style photographs on view downstairs at City Hall captures the life, scenery and people of California’s Central Valley.

Presented by San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries, the show was curated with sentiment and care by Ann Jastrab, director of RayKo Photo Center gallery in The City, who, along with several photographers whose works are in the show, attended the opening last month.

“These photographs have surprised me and moved me with their beauty and strength,” Jastrab said. “Sometimes it’s the struggle of the land and sometimes it’s the sheer triumph of nature and humanity.”

Photos of 1970s farm workers by Mimi Plumb and Lou Dematteis provide a fascinating glimpse into the past.

Plumb, a 19-year-old student at the time, seemingly captured labor leader Cesar Chavez’s soul in one particularly serene, close-up portrait. Meanwhile, Dematteis’ dramatic photos of a 1975 United Farm Workers march, which began in San Francisco with a few hundred demonstrators and ended in Modesto with more than 15,000 participants, made news.

In groupings Jastrab calls photo essays, Sam Comen’s contemporary, environmental portraits are appealingly naturalistic, while Matt Black explores how rural life has moved away from farming. Antonio Olmos documents how young men are pursuing boxing as a pastime, while Ken and Melanie Light’s images and text, from their book “Valley of Shadows and Dreams” depict, with an almost spiritualistic tone, the costs, and tragedy, of unsustainable, unrealized development.

Francisco Dominguez puts his camera on people often in the margins — undocumented immigrants, farm workers, indigenous people — showing them struggling and fighting for their rights, but also in daily life.

Charlotte Neil’s intimate, arresting images of people at work and play — a woman standing amid the clutter of merchandise in her thrift shop and young beauty queens about to enjoy a picnic meal are particularly evocative — contrast with her large-format valley landscapes on display in City Hall’s street-level, high-ceilinged North Light Court.

The huge images, which cover significant portions of the walls, are dramatic and poetic.

In addition to the groupings by the invited photographers, the show also includes past and present images of the area taken from the San Francisco Chronicle’s archives.


The Valley/El Valle

Where: City Hall, lower level and North Light Court, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, S.F.

When: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; closes Sept. 19

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 554-6080, www.sfartscommission.org/gallery

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Leslie Katz

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