From Davao to Baghdad
I am interested in documenting the lives of workers. I’m trying to see through the camera and the photographs what it’s like to be a small farmer, what it’s like to work on a banana plantation, what war feels like to the people in Iraq. In some cases, that’s wrapped up in the history of organizing unions to fight U.S. corporations… The last time I went to the Philippines, in 2019, I saw that their cooperative movement had become very strong, something that has been able to change people’s lives. The Iraq photographs had that kind of intentionality to them, too, which I don't think made them any less true or any less an accurate documentation of the reality in Iraq. We exhibited these photographs in US union halls so that working people, especially oil workers, could see people in Iraq as people in unions like them. And think about relationship besides the relationship of war … Regardless of what I am documenting it has its own logic and its own story. And I am helping to tell that story with photographs.
David Bacon has traveled the world documenting the courage of people struggling for social and economic justice. In the Philippines, the banana industry is a major economic engine. The work is difficult, pay is low, and working conditions are often dangerous. The workers started out as plantation workers on these plantations that were developed as a product of colonialism and then eventually fought for laws that implemented agrarian reform. They set up cooperatives and became the owners of the land, but the going was rough in the beginning.
The Iraq war started on March 20, 2003. David Bacon’s images capture life during the United States occupation of Iraq as citizens attempt to make a living in the war's aftermath. Although the war was fought for control of oil, Bacon is unique in documenting the lives of the workers who actually produce the oil wealth. His photographs show families scrambling through the detritus of violence, workers attempting to revitalize their country's unions and fight for labor rights, as well as the dire conditions during the occupation.