Unpublished letter to San Francisco Chronicle
about Cesar Chavez photographs and art neutrality

Ms. Yollin-

Thanks for the great article about the important exhibition of Cathy Murphy's photos at San Francisco State ["Struggles for power preserved in pictures," San Francisco Chronicle, May 20, 2013]. As a scholar of social justice posters, I know that many of these photos were the image seed for powerful labor art within the movement. But they have also been used for forces less concerned with progressive change. In 1993 Apple Computer released a series of "Think Different" posters featuring iconic iconoclasts, Cesar Chavez among them (image below).* That prompted Mary Bergan, then President of the California Federation of Teachers, to issue a three page condemnation. She reamed the campaign for twisting Chavez' message for corporate greed:

So it turns out that “think different” really means “don’t think.” Last week the Associated Press reported that Apple CEO Steven Jobs told an educational reform conference, “I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way. This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.” ...The ad, of course, doesn’t endorse unions. It simply appropriates the image of a Chicano hero in a state with a growing Chicano population and, presumably, potential market for Apple products. Indeed, in the 1990s Steve Jobs and Apple notoriously resisted granting union recognition to its largely Latino, low paid, contracted out Silicon Valley janitorial workforce until the Justice for Janitors union campaign embarrassed the corporation sufficiently to bring Jobs and his company around.

I don't know if Cathy took this photograph** (it's very similar to the one in your review) but no art is neutral, and relies on social forces to make it work. Struggles for power are, indeed, preserved in pictures - and archives. Thank you Cathy Murphy, and thank you Labor Archives and Research Center.

Lincoln Cushing

*Apple did secure the rights to the image from the estate of Cesar Chavez, fee unknown.
**Based on subsequent correspondence she did not.