Picturing California's Migrant Children
   It was with a sense of optimism that Orville Goldner first took on the task of photographing children, their schools, and the living conditions the 350,000 impoverished migrant workers who came to California during the mid to late 1930’s. He and an associate Grace Kerns, were sent out by Walter Dexter, the Superintendent of Public Instruction in California, to photographically record California’s newest school children. They had been hired to look at the influences of home life, school facilities, and communities had upon the learning process of the migrant children newly brought to California by their economically depressed parents. Goldner visited housing tracts, employee camps, Farm Security Administration facilities, and other places where these displaced persons had squatted.
   What is remarkable about Goldner’s reports of his trek are the attitudes he encountered and the willingness of the people to "share their afflictions", not to raise, as he called it "pity", but to give vent to feelings of displacement and the missed opportunities of their past. His writing records thoughts of anger, sadness, joy, and, then, happiness, in his continuing trek around the Central Valley.
   Goldner’s photographs portray not so much suffering and unhappiness but create for us a brief look into a different vision as opposed to the one so heavily used as a political weapon by opponents of large California

growers (as portrayed by John Steinbeck in his books The Grapes of Wrath and the newspaper articles he wrote entitled Their Blood is Strong). To the people Goldner met, the current negative circumstances in which they found themselves was all temporary. Those completely without hope, he reports, would not or could not speak to him.
   The photographic "trek" took place during January, February, and March of 1940 (although he reports visiting areas until June of that year). His visits took him to camps near Bakersfield up as far north as Red Bluff. His task was not to look at how their migrant parents or the children laboriously worked in the fields. His employer wanted to understand how migrant life and California’s maligned rural education system was influencing these children. Was public instruction in rural California doing its job under the circumstances? After viewing the images how would you answer that question?
   Goldner’s photographs are truly documentary. They "catch" our eyes with their ability to show life progressing as usual—home, school, and family—most of the time. The images displayed here have been chosen to represent his style and intent. Children were his subject, homes and schools and other places were secondary, although all ended up being important byproducts of his work.»

See the range of Goldner's travels on a map


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