Photographers focusing on California farmworkers are often described as heirs to a tradition that emerged midway through the Great Depression, mainly from the heroic efforts of one iconic photographer, Dorothea Lange. By calling attention to a diverse group of underappreciated antecedents who have never been linked together, this article presents a more sequential, less tidy account of how social documentary photography focused on farmworkers in the Golden State in the years before Lange moved out of her studio into the countryside. Without ever referring to their work as social documentary photography, these photographers, largely on their own and with little knowledge of one another, broke with standard commercial practices, turned a probing eye on the fields, recorded history as it unfolded, and created a visually stunning, realistic,often uncomfortable body of work.

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