Richard Steven Street

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Richard Steven Street
Richard Steven Street photographing an image of California Agriculture
Richard Steven Street photographing
Stephen Pavich
Born San Rafael, California, USA
Nationality American
Education Ph.D.
Alma mater University of Wisconsin, Madison
Occupation Photographer, academic author, journalist, photographer. Farm labor activist.
Years active 1968-present
Employer Streetshots
Known for Scholarly work, journalism, and photography in the field of farm labor and agriculture

Richard Steven Street is a photographer, historian and journalist specializing in agriculture, defined broadly. He is well known for his multi-volume history of California farmworkers and photo essays.

Early life and education[edit]

Street was born to Oscar and Mary Street in San Rafael, California. In 1968, he received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley. During his tenure there, Street studied history with Leon F. Litwack, whose lecture style and politics strongly shaped his values and writing. Street participated in the Free Speech Movement and the Delano Grape Strike. During 1968, Street worked in Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign.

In the winter of 1969, Street entered the M.A. program in history at the University of California, Davis, where he studied with David Brody and Peter Kolchin. That summer, after completing Officer Training School at Fort Benning, Georgia, he used his military pay to finance research for his thesis on black workers in the south during the 1880s. For six weeks, Street visited all of the pertinent archives, saving money by sleeping out in the back of his 1955 Chevrolet station wagon. In fall of 1970, Street resigned his commission and followed Kolchin to the University of Wisconsin, Madison to pursue his doctorate. On his first day at Madison in January 1971 he stepped out of the Humanities building just as the Madison police were firing tear gas and driving student protesters up the steps of Bascom Hill.

Photographic career[edit]

Just as Street finished his doctoral exams, Kolchin and Street’s other supervising professor, Robert Starobin, were denied tenure. On a brief trip back to California, Street traveled to the Southern San Joaquin Valley where he witnessed the mass arrests of farmworkers on strike at the Guimarra Vineyards, near Arvin. Seeing deputies manhandling a defiant sixteen-year-old striker named Marta Rodríguez, Street abandoned his original scholarly plans and turned his attention to California farmworkers. Thirty-five years later he tracked down Rodríguiez, and interviewed and photographed her. To finance his research, Street began writing for a small weekly newspaper, Pacific Sun. After six years of work in archives reading from California to Washington, D.C., the University of Wisconsin raised out-of state tuition to a level that he could not afford. Street used his information on agriculture to write a doctoral dissertation, “Into the Good Land: the Emergence of California Agriculture, 1850-1920.” Praised by his dissertation advisor, diplomatic historian Tomas McCormick, the dissertation was rejected by two committee members, Alan Bogue and Morton Rothstein. Two weeks later the second carbon copy of the manuscript received the James D. Phelan Award for literature from a committee of the San Francisco Foundation chaired by Bancroft Library Director James D. Hart. A third carbon copy, handled by John Steinbeck’s agent Elizabeth Otis, was placed at W. W. Norton. Kevin Star used the forth carbon copy to write the agriculture section of Americans and the California Dream, then sent it to Oxford University Press, which also agreed to publish it.

Soon after the University of Wisconsin rescinded its tuition hike, Street learned photography by convincing Pacific Sun to give him a standing assignment to write feature stories and photograph all of the best photographers in Northern California. The series, which received a Pulitzer Prize nomination, provided lessons that Street applied to building and running a photography business.

In 1979 Street launched Streetshots, an agricultural photography business, defined broadly, that kept him in the center of the industry that is the focus for his scholarship. Street used the travel opportunities, contacts, income, and experiences to extend his original research and consult material in over 500 manuscript collections in 22 states, Spain, Mexico, Germany, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In an interview once observed that if boxed and stacked the quantity of material would fill every room in the average house, floor to ceiling, including the garage. During his photographic career, Street worked for corporate magazines ranging from Forbes and Fortune to the U.S. Information Agency and National Geographic. Corporate clients ranged from Ag Trol Chemicals and Buena Vista Winery to Gerawan Farming and California Rural Legal Assistance. His became well known for studio-lit photography in the field under difficult and/or dangerous conditions.

During this time Street published journalism and photojournalism essays on organic farming, the U.C. Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology, the U.S.-Mexico border, Special Agricultural Workers Program (SAWS), undocumented workers, organic agriculture, winemaking, water, pesticides, immigrant communities, and the United Farm Workers union. During these decades Street wrote a stream of academic articles drawing on information from his farmworker research. He also condensed much of his scholarship for publication in general interest magazines. In his first book, Organizing for Our lives: New Voices from Rural Communities, Street integrated his photographs with interviews and prose to describe the experiences of six groups engaged in successful campaigns of self-organizing.

Academic career[edit]

Street turned in his doctoral dissertation in June 1995. Titled “We Are Not Slaves: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, Formative Years, 1769-1869,” it described the emergence of the farmworker class. The dissertation was the first half of the first volume in Street’s multi-volume opus.

In the fall of 1999, Street returned to academic life as a Visiting Professor and Fellow in the Stanford University Humanities Center. The following year he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

In 2003 Street was appointed to the California Labor History Map Committee, where he wrote the entire farmworker section of a project that developed a web-based resource for studying the state’s working classes. During the fall of 2006, Street served as the Alisa Mellon Burns Senior Distinguished Visiting Fellow, National Gallery of Art, Center for the Advanced Study in Visual Arts.

In 2009 Street received the Howard Chapnick Award in photojournalism from the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Foundation. From 2010 to 2011 Street was a visiting professor at the James Weldon Johnson Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies, Emory University.


Street’s research focuses on rural California, defined broadly to include everything from border and community studies to photography and the history of labor unions. Although considered to be left of center, Street does push any particular standpoint, letting the politics fall where they may. He seldom if ever invokes theory.

The first two volumes of his comprehensive history of California farmworkers appeared in 2004 when Stanford University Press published Beasts of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769–1913, which took the story from the arrival of the Spanish padres to the Wheatland hop riot, and Photographing Farmworkers in California. The books opened new vistas on the subject and pushed the story back to the beginning of Spanish colonization, and extracted a visual narrative that yielded new insights on photography in California. Reviewers praised the books for their accessible and engaged writing style, definitive research, and for the way they brought scholarly work to a general readership far beyond the academy.

The books won numerous prizes, among them the Mark Lynton History Prize[1] from the Nieman Foundation/Harvard University-Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; the Golden Spur Award from the Western Writers of America; the Silver Medal from the Commonwealth Club of California; the Caroline Bancroft Award from the Denver Public Library; the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for Best Nonfiction on the American West. Beasts of the Field was a finalist in the Los Angeles Times Book Awards for Best History Book of 2004.

In 2006 Street was asked to write about his life as a photographer/scholar. The resulting essay, published in Visual Communication Quarterly as “The Photographer’s Double: The Photographer as Historian, the Historian as Photographer,” is now being expanded into a book about an academic gone astray and in the middle of the industry that is his special expertise. The University of Oklahoma Press will publish this as Knife Fight City and Other Matters: An Independent Life Adrift in the California Agro-Industry at Millennium’s End. More than 100 of Street's black and white and color images amplify the text. In 2008, Street published Everyone Had Cameras: Photography and Farmworkers in California, 1850-2000 (University of Minnesota Press). The third volume in his opus, it also received his third Pulitzer Prize nomination. In the last four chapters Street switches from third-person to first-person and moves himself into the story as eye-witness to, and photographer of, the events he is chronicling.

In Delano Diary; The Visual Adventure and Social Documentary Work of Jon Lewis, Photographer of the Delano, California Grape Strike, 1966-1968 (University of Nebraska Press, 2009), Street presents the work of a young photojournalist just out of the Marines who produced an epic insider’s view of the Delano grape strike between 1966 and 1968. Subversive Images: Leonard Nadel’s Photo Essay on Braceros in 1956 (University of Nebraska Press, 2010), describes a powerful but unknown photographic project about an ignored but essential class of Mexican laborers documented in images so far ahead of their time and so disturbing that no one would publish them. In 2010 Street will begin writing the final volume of his multi-volume history of California farmworkers. Under contract to the University of Oklahoma Pres, We Are Not Slaves: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1913–2013, the book is a bottom-up narrative of 1,000-pages organized around the theme of the long struggle to organize and develop countervailing power.

Awards and honors[edit]

  • 1979 – James D. Phelan Award of the San Francisco Foundation for Into the Good Land: The Emergence of California Agribusiness, 1850-1920
  • 1983 – Pulitzer Prize nomination for stories on photographers and photography in California that appeared during 1982 in Pacific Sun.
  • 1985 – Best Agricultural Reporting in California award of the Sigma Delta Chi Journalism Society for "Valley of the Shadow of Death," a photo essay in the San Diego Magazine.
  • 1985 – Award of Merit of the American Association for State and Local History for discovering and preserving the heretofore unknown Kern County photographs of Carleton E. Watkins
  • 1986 – Thomas Storke Award for International Journalism of the World Affairs Council of Northern California for "The Border",a photo essay of California farmers.
  • 1989 – Lincoln Steffens Award for Investigative Journalism of the Sonoma Press Club for "The Big Fix", an essay which detailed the use of illegal chemicals to increase berry size in table grapes.
  • 1992 – Agricultural Journalism Excellence Award of the University of Maryland, College of Journalism and the National Agricultural Library.*1992 – Lincoln Steffens Award for Investigative Journalism of the Sonoma Press Club for the essay, "Knife Fight City".
  • 1992 – Pulitzer Prize nomination for "Knife Fight City."
  • 1995 – Mayer Fellowship of the Huntington Library.
  • 1999 – Carl Wheat Award for the best article published in the Southern California Quarterly for "The FBI’s Secret File on César Chávez".
  • 2002 – finalist Harry Chapin World Hunger Awards for “Life in the Canyons: San Diego’s Immigrant Shantytown Community.”
  • 2003 – Ansel Adams Fellow of the University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography.
  • 2004 – Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship at the Huntington Library.
  • 2004 – Independent Research and Creative Work Award from the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies of Brigham Young University
  • 2005 – Mark Lynton History Prize for Beasts of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913.[2]
  • 2007 – Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • 2007 – Wyeth Publication Grant of the College Art Association.
  • 2008 – Best Labor History Article published in Labor History for "Poverty in the Valley of Plenty: The National Farm Labor Union, DiGiorgio Farms, and Suppression of Documentary Photography in California, 1947-66.”
  • 2008 – Distinguished Achievement Award of the Center for Cultural Innovation


Single-authored books[edit]

Organizing for Our Lives: New Voices from Rural Communities (New Sage Press/CRLA, 1991), text, interviews, and photographs. (ISBN 978-0-939165-18-6)

Beasts of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913 (Stanford University Press, 2004). (ISBN 0-8047-3880-7)

Photographing Farmworkers in California (Stanford University Press, 2004). (ISBN 0-8047-4092-5)

Everyone Had Cameras: Photography and Farmworkers in California, 1850-2000 (University of Minnesota Press, 2008). (ISBN 978-0-8166-4967-9)

Selected solely-authored article[edit]

“The Last Time I Saw César,” History New Network, April 21, 2008,

“Photographing from the bullpen on assignment, when César Chávez ended his fast at Forty Acres, August 21, 1988,” 77 Pacific Historical Review (Winter 2008), 151-153 (and photograph)

“Leonard Nadel’s Photo Essay on Bracero Laborers in California,” Center 27: Record of Activities and Research Reports, June 2006-May 2007, National Gallery of Art, Center for the Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (Wash., DC, 2007), 152-155.

“Poverty in the Valley of Plenty: The National Farm Labor Union, DiGiorgio Farms, and Suppression of Documentary Photography in California, 1947-66,” Labor History 48 (February 2007), 25-48.

“The Photographer’s Double: The Photographer as Historian, the Historian as Photographer,” Visual Communication Quarterly 13 (Spring 2006), 66-89

“Lange’s Antecedents: The Emergence of Social Documentary Photography of California’s Farmworkers,” Pacific Historical Review 75 (August 2006), 385-428.

“Everyone Had Cameras: Photographers, Photography, and the Farmworker Experience in California – A Photographic Essay,” California History 83 (Fall/Winter, 2005), 8-25.

“Photographing César’s Last Fast: A Personal Essay,” in Leroy Chatfield, ed., National Farmworker Documentation Project (Sacramento, 2004).

“Framing Farm Workers Through a Historian’s Lens,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 7, 2002, B13-15 reprinted in History News Network.

“Tattered Shirts and Ragged Pants: Accommodation, Protest, and the Coarse Culture of California Wheat Harvesters and Threshers, 1866-1900,” Pacific Historical Review 117 (December 1998), 136-166.

“The 1903 Oxnard Sugar Beet Strike: A New Ending,” Labor History 39 (May 1998), 193-99.

“The FBI’s Secret File on César Chávez,” Southern California Quarterly, 128 4 (Winter, 1996/97), 347-384.

“First Farmworkers, First Braceros: Baja California Field Hands and the Origins of Farm Labor Importation in California Agriculture, 1769-1790,” California History, 125, No. 4 (Winter, 1996–97), 306-21, 381-3.

Solely authored-magazine essays and photo essays[edit]

“Life in the Canyons: Photographs of San Diego’s Shantytowns Communities,” Labor's Heritage 11 (Winter 2001), 36-59.

“The Flying Mondavis,” Worth Magazine 7 (March 1998), 92-98

“Organic on a Grand Scale,” Harrowsmith 10 (December, 1994), 38-43.

“‘Something Better Than We Are:’ Latino Workers in California,” Culturefront 3 (Fall, 1994), 92-101.

“Knife Fight City,” West Magazine, San Jose Mercury News, (July 28, 1991), 8-13, 22-24.

“The True Believers,” West Magazine, San Jose Mercury News, (October 14, 1990), 8-13.

“The Clean Revolution,” California Magazine, (June, 1990), 66-75, 82-83, 86, 130-134.

“Agriculture’s Wild West Town,” California Farmer 272 (March 17, 1990), 14-16, 26.

“SAW's Edge,” California Farmer, 269 (October 15, 1988), 8-9, 37-39.

“The Big Fix,” California Farmer, 269 (September 3, 1988), 8-9, 13-15.

“Jack Be Nimble,” California Business, 4 (April, 1988), 32-40, 48-50.

“Mystery Achievement,” California Farmer, 266 (February 1, 1987), 8-9, 12-13.

“Maggio Strikes Back,” California Farmer, 265 (December 13, 1986), 6-7, 16-19.

“The Border,” California Farmer, 265 (September 6, 1986), 10-11, 36-39.

“The Grape Men of Davis,” Sacramento Magazine, 11 (October, 1985), 47-55.

“The Murder of Hugh Glenn,” Sacramento Magazine, 11 (July, 1985), 49-54.

“A Grape of Another Color,” Nation’s Business 42 (June 1985), 75R-76R.

“Gutting the Farm Labor Law,” The Nation, 240 (March 23, 1985), 330-332.

“Valley of the Shadow of Death,” San Diego Magazine, 37 (December, 1984), 220-229.

“Wheatland: Birth of the Farm Labor Movement,” Sacramento Magazine, 10 (December, 1984), 38-42, 63-66.

“California Images: Kern County in Photographic Reverie,” The Californians, 2 (January–February, 1984), 22-27.

“Hundreds of Watkins Glass Plates Found Discovered,” Museum of California, 7 (January–February, 1984), 4-7.

“The Case of the Purloined Photos,” (California Living, Sunday San Francisco Examiner), January 23, 1983), 5-9.

“The Lettuce Strike Story,” The Nation, 230 (January 19, 1980), 45-49.

“Smashing the United Farm Workers,” Pacific Sun, June 29, 1979, 5-11.

Contributions to books[edit]

Photographs (short list)[edit]

“A Nation of Strangers,” in Points of Entry (San Diego, Museum of Photographic Arts, 1995), ed, by Arthur Ollman and Vicki Goldberg, photos, part of a traveling exhibition

Lights: Urban-Suburban Life in a Global Society (Oxford University Press, 1995), by E. Barbara Phillips, photos.

“Fresh Grapes in California and Arizona: Stephen Pavich and Sons,” case study, in National Research Council, National Academy of Science, Alternative Agriculture (Washington, D.C., 1989), 35-74, photos.

Essays (short list)[edit]

“The 'Battle of Salinas:’ San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographers and the Salinas lettuce Strike of 1936,” in Peter Palmquist, ed., Photography in the West (Manhattan Kansas, Sunflower University Press, 1987), 41-52.


“Hard Realities,” La Peña Cultural center, Berkeley, California, December 5, 2008 – January 25, 2009

“Life and Labor in the Fields,” Pasadena Playhouse, April 29-June 8, 2008, accompanying the production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men

“César Chávez and Dolores Huerta,” Buehler Visitor’s Center, University of California, Davis, November 2004-January, 2005 Marin Artists Grantees. Group Exhibition February 13-March 27, 2002, Falkirk Cultural Center, San Rafael, California. Four pieces.

“Shooting Farm Workers.” Exhibition of 60 black and white and color photographs illustrating a historian’s quarter-century sojourn as an agricultural photographer in California, Thacher Gallery, University of San Francisco, Aug. 6 - Oct. 14, 2001

“Points of Entry” Contributing photographer, series of black and white photographs from the shantytown communities of North San Diego County, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, California, 1995-1999. Traveling Exhibition.

“Organizing for Our Lives.” Exhibition of 25 black and white images, Arte Americas, Fresno, California, May–June, 1992

“Work and Workers.” Exhibition of 40 black and white and color images, The Darkroom, San Rafael, California. January 6–27, 1979.

About Richard Steven Street[edit]

Owen Lamb, “Photographer Exposes Life of Farm Workers,” Ross Valley Reporter (June 14, 2005).

Steve Zeitser, “Labor on the Job: Book Review Interview” (April 1, 2005), Labor Video Project, San Francisco

Louis Freedberg, “Images from the Field,” Editorial, San Francisco Chronicle, June 21, 2004.

Mark Arax, “Yesterday’s Seeds, Today’s Harvests, “Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 27, 2004, R6-8.

“Framing Farm Workers Through a Historian’s Lens,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 7, 2002), B13-16

“Organizing for Our Lives,” by Mark Lapin, Photo District News, January 1994, 84-86.

“Front Lines,” by Cheryl Romo, Sacramento Magazine, October 1985, 6.

“Toil and Hope,” Sacramento Bee, June 20, 1994


  1. ^ Arts, Briefly; Book News
  2. ^ "J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project winners". Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Retrieved 16 March 2011.