The Robert Koch Gallery presents Matt Black: The Central Valley and Mexico, the gallery’s second exhibition featuring the powerful and stark works of American photographer Matt Black. Based in California’s Central Valley, Black produces highly narrative imagery deeply grounded in present-day societal and environmental disquietude. The Central Valley and Mexico delves into two earlier bodies of work, seemingly distant in geography but profoundly united in thematic resonance. Black’s lens presents a captivating and profound exploration of some of the most marginalized communities in the Americas.
In 1995, Black began capturing the struggle, disempowerment, and hopeful resilience of communities throughout the Central Valley of California. The work from The Central Valley portrays the many hardships faced by residents working and living in one of the world’s most significant and powerful agricultural hubs. Despite generating billions of dollars in economic output, these communities bear the weight of poverty, unemployment, and inadequate access to healthcare and education.
It was while photographing in the Central Valley, that Black noticed a shift in the agricultural workforce, historically a point of transition for various migrant groups. Black identified a group that intrigued him: indigenous immigrants from Mexico, speaking Trique, Mixtec, or Nahuatl. The reasons for leaving their homelands intrigued Black and led him to the mountains of Oaxaca, where he witnessed the erosion of an ancient way of life. These mountains, the birthplace of corn cultivation with a history spanning millennia, had succumbed to modern farming techniques, resulting in landslides, crop failures, and a mass exodus to the US in search of opportunities. Those left behind were mostly the elderly and children, struggling to sustain shrinking villages that became targets for drug cartels. Amid this intersection of environmental crisis and economic brutality, Black composed compelling photo essays, such as “The People of Clouds” and “The Monster in the Mountains,” which would eventually comprise the series Mixteca.
Matt Black creates work that, while rooted in the documentary tradition, is also noted for its deeply personal approach, emotional engagement, and visual intensity. Excerpts from American Geography have been widely published and exhibited in the United States and abroad. A monograph of American Geography was published in 2021 by Thames and Hudson, accompanying an institutional exhibition that traveled to the Deichtorhallen Hamburg (2020) and the Kunstfoyer, Munich (2021).
In addition to The New Yorker, Black’s work has appeared in TIME Magazine, The California Sunday Magazine, as well as international publications such as Le Monde (France) and Internazionale (Italy). Also a filmmaker, Black’s short films have been published by The New Yorker, MSNBC, and Orion Magazine, among others. A member of the prestigious Magnum agency, Matt Black has been honored three times by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Prize, named a senior fellow at the Emerson Collective, and was the recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Award in 2015 for Humanistic Photography.
Robert Koch Gallery : Matt Black : The Central Valley and Mexico
September 7 – October 21, 2023
Robert Koch Gallery
49 Geary Street, 5th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94108