Matt Black‘s project People Of The Clouds may be one of the most intelligently thought through pieces of photographic work I have seen in a long time. I just wanted to say that simply and clearly. It is one of the first projects I have seen where a photographer explicitly attempts to explore the (blatantly obvious, but rarely acknowledged) connections between our modernity here, and their deprivations there.
As he explains on his KickStarter page for The People Of Clouds project, that the region of Mixteca where the work is based is…
At its heart, it’s a culture of the land, and corn. Along the region’s hillsides, it is still possible to glimpse ancient terraces, canals, and runoff channels that protected the Mixteca’s rich but fragile soil, and nourished its inhabitants, for thousands of years.
But today, these ancient farming traditions have been lost, replaced by chemical fertilizers, hybrid seeds, and herbicides, the trifecta of modern agriculture heavily promoted in indigenous communities by the Mexican government and international charities as part of the “Green Revolution” of the 1960s…Today, much of the Mixteca has been declared an “Ecological Disaster Zone,” the result of unchecked erosion, deforestation, and soil exhaustion…Far from sparking a Green Revolution, the industrial farming techniques prescribed to the Mixtecs have resulted in their becoming unable to even keep themselves fed.
Nearly a quarter million Mixtecs have emigrated to the US. Some villages have lost as much as 80% of their population and have become little more than ghost towns.
There is a simple, clear, connection between migration, the destruction of rural lives, the gods of modernity and their presumptions of infallibility. It reminded me of something that Amitava Kumar highlighted in his book Passport Photos when talking about NAFTA, its consequences for Mexican citizens, in particular the rural citizens, the need to reveal the economic and social connections that are frequently veiled by mainstream media. He quotes Nikki Fortunato Bas,of the Political Ecology Group, from the report New World Border:
In terms of immigration, I think of of the things people aren’t really grasping is that the US plays a really large role in forcing people into migration. You know, NAFTA alone has displaced, I think, 300,000 Mexican farm workers. The GATT has also played a role in destabilizing local economies and forcing people into migration. So, when the US starts scapegoating immigrants for our problems, they have to really look and see what is driving people to come to this country.
Matt Black seems to want to help us understand precisely this fact: that what we do here, affects what they can do there.
This is a powerful, insightful and beautifully human piece of work.
I am just thrilled to back it on KickStarter, and anxious to see its evolution.