California Drought

California's Central Valley is approaching a potentially-devastating fifth year of drought. Farmers in the region have been forced to dig deeper for water, heightening environmental concerns. Thousands of homes in already economically-depressed towns have been deprived of water to drink. And undocumented farm workers have been idled as the agriculture industry slashes production.

With policymakers and water management experts beginning to debate solutions that are crucial for the region's sustainability, the Central Valley—known for its agricultural bounty—is facing a decisive moment in history.

But what effect will groundwater management and improving technologies have for the future of the farmers and workers who are at the heart of California's agricultural community?

This photographic project aims to document the ongoing battle of the region's struggling farmers, herdsmen and field workers who live across the Central Valley. It will capture the fifth generation farmer in Firebaugh fighting to hold onto his family's farm. It will tell the stories of the residents of East Porterville, a small farming community in the Sierra Foothills where over a third of the population lives below the federal poverty line, and where 56 percent of adults didn't graduate from high school. It will document communities in Tulare County, where 5,433 residents didn't have running water this year.

Using black and white photography, the goal of this project is to create a deeper understanding of the marginalized workers and their families who live throughout the Central Valley. From this photo essay we will learn how the struggle for water is transforming the lives of workers and the region.

Funding for this project will be used for travel expenses including rental car, gas and motels. Production will take place over a 30-day period throughout the Central Valley during the main harvest from July 1st thru September 1, 2016.

For more than two decades I have photographed conflict in countries including South Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Angola, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon and Nigeria. From 2003-2014 I was based in the Middle East working as a photographer for clients including The New York Times, The Sunday Times Magazine, Vanity Fair and The Guardian. In 2002 I received a second place Magazine Portrait and Personality award in the Best of Photojournalism competition for my work in Afghanistan.

Shawn Baldwin
December 11, 2015