Seattle photographer Irwin Nash had a knack for shooting portraits. You can see it in the eyes and demeanor of the Yakima Valley migrant farmworkers who gazed into his lens 50 years ago.
The long-forgotten photos bring to life Latino families who once cut field asparagus, prepared meals, or celebrated a teen girl’s quinceañera.
Nash documented many of these activities at the Ahtanum and Crewport migrant labor camps in the Yakima area from 1967 to 1976. He often traveled with the migrant community and followed them during their turbulent struggles to obtain fair pay and other farmworker rights.
In a 2021 interview, Nash said he chose these types of projects because he “wanted to call attention to the plight of a segment of the population that has never received the recognition and compensation merited by their contribution to our society.” His collection—319 rolls of 35mm film—was purchased in 1991 by Washington State University and housed in its Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections. Only the barest of information and history was provided with the photos.
Nearly 30 years later, as part of a larger project to digitize Depression era newspaper clippings, librarian Lipi Turner-Rahman decided to revive the Nash collection. At the Kimble Digitization Center in Terrell Library, she hired students to scan material and add descriptive metadata. Last June, with the help of grant funding and donations, her team digitized the last of Nash’s 9,500 photos and posted them online. Now, they are asking for the public’s help to identify them.
“The Kimble Digitization Center is important because part of our charge as a land-grant university is to give all Washington residents access to library materials,” says Turner-Rahman. “Not everyone can drive to Pullman or visit during open hours.
“I felt that digitizing these photos allows greater access for the people in the photos and it’s important that they are the ones who actually see it. Having it online should make it easier for them to encounter photographs of themselves, their parents, and grandparents. It provides an affirmation of who they are and validates their lives and community.”
The difficult part is collecting the identities and stories that go with the photos. To that end, Turner-Rahman created the Nash Photo Collection Facebook group where the public can comment and share memories and thoughts.
“We want to add information in a respectful way, to let their community do the storytelling,” she says. “The database we are creating will also be useful for scholars and genealogists.”
Wallis (’68 Civ. Eng.) and Marilyn (’64 Speech and Hearing Sci.) Kimble provided funding for the Kimble Digitization Center as well as the Wallis and Marilyn Kimble Northwest Historical Data Base.
…and you can help!
Many of the people in these photos have been identified but hundreds more remain unknown. The public is invited to share information through Facebook or by contacting Lipi Turner-Rahman directly via email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone at 509-335-4849, or letter.
On the web
Video: Seattle man’s photos of farmworkers in the 60s ignites search for similar stories (King 5, “Facing Race” series, Oct. 8, 2021)