Photojournalist John Francis Ficara’s “Black Farmers in America” project, winner of the 2001 NPPA-Nikon Sabbatical Grant, has been published as a book and is an exhibit at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore as part of Black History Month.
Ficara, an NPPA member since 1996, will give a lecture and sign the book at the museum on February 11 at 1 p.m. “Black Farmers In America,” with an essay by Juan Williams, has been published by the University of Kentucky Press. The 10 x 11 book has more than 100 photographs reproduced in duotone over 144 pages. The museum exhibit opened in January and runs through April 30.
The NPPA-Nikon Sabbatical Grant is sponsored by Nikon Inc. and administered by NPPA. The $15,000 stipend to undertake or continue a project enables a working photojournalist to take a three-month leave of absence to pursue a documentary project illuminating “The Changing Face Of America.”
“The (NPPA-Nikon Sabbatical) grant propelled the project,” Ficara wrote to News Photographer, “and it’s a success story to share with our members.” He started the project when he was a photographer at Newsweek and spent four years across America documenting black farmers as they struggled to overcome difficulties, farmers and their families who wanted nothing more than a chance to continue to live on and work on their land.
Ficara’s book says that black Americans made up 14 percent of all farmers in 1920 and worked 16 million acres of land, but that today black farmers are less than 1 percent of the nation’s farmers and are working on less than 3 million acres. Changing technology, globalization, an aging workforce, racist lending policies, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture itself each contributed, in some way, to the demise of the black farmer in America, the book says, creating “a staggering story of human loss: when each farm closed, those farmers, their spouses, children, grandchildren, and the people they hired, all had to leave a way of life that had existed in their families for generations.”
The winner of the 2006 NPPA-Nikon Sabbatical Grant was announced last week. Adriana Lopez Sanfeliu of Brooklyn, NY, and Barcelona, Spain, won for her ongoing documentary essay “Life On The Block,” an exploration “of the mental and physical boundaries on the lives of young Puerto Rican women who live in America.” Other past winners of the Grant can be seen here.