There are many major issues that urban and rural Californians share—issues like water management, the government budgets, and education. And yet, because we all have different things at stake, these issues often impact our lives in different ways. What makes it seem impossible to overcome these differences is that there is so little communication between the two populations within California. Indeed, despite the daily exchange among urban and rural communities that takes place through the food system, the lack of direct, human contact makes it feels as though California is made up of two wholly separate states.
Real Rural is meant to start a new conversation, by bringing stories from rural California to urban populations around the state. These stories are not about issues, but rather about lives; they are meant to help urbanites understand rural people and communities on a basic, human level. Many people in our cities think they already know the story of rural California: who’s there and how they think, their values and their struggles. If this project has one goal, it is to shatter that assumption by reflecting how diverse and dynamic rural California actually is.
The stories are told through photographs, narrative writing, and audio. Really, though, the stories are told through the voices of the people living in rural California. “I think of myself as a conduit,” Hamilton explains, “gathering stories from the corners of the room and bringing them to the crowd in the middle.”
Throughout more than a decade focusing on agriculture and rural communities, writer and photographer Hamilton has focused on people and their unique, compelling lives. For Real Rural, she will compose these stories into a major storytelling website, pairing photographs with audio and text for a multi-layered narrative experience. The project will also include an “ad” campaign on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART): traditional ad placards featuring portraits of rural places and people will be featured on trains throughout the BART system in January-February 2012. Additionally, the work will be exhibited at the California Historical Society Museum in San Francisco in fall 2012.
The website and BART campaign are funded by contributions from ROC, Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, and the Creative Work Fund (a project of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund). The partners are currently seeking additional funding to expand the transit campaign to Los Angeles and Sacramento.