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Eugene S. Ferguson Prize, recipient 2021

Recipient 2021: Mary Beth Meehan and Fred Turner

For Seeing Silicon Valley: Life Inside a Fraying America (University of Chicago Press), 2021

(First published in French as Visages de Silicon Valley (C&F Editions 2018)).

Meehan and Turner’s Seeing Silicon Valley is an inventive combination of photojournalism and sociocultural analysis. It documents the diverse and often underrepresented communities of contemporary Silicon Valley, a prominent region in both the history and the present of technology. The book centers on twenty-six photographic portraits, with accompanying narratives about the lives and contexts of those portrayed. As a collaboration between an accomplished photojournalist (Meehan) and a noted analyst of Silicon Valley’s history and culture (Turner), the book is able to document lives and facets of Silicon Valley that have eluded, or been ignored or erased, the previously existing photographic record of the region. The core thematic of the book is inequity, in visibility, income, and other dimensions. As Turner puts it in his introductory essay, “The Valley on the Hill”:

In Silicon Valley, it has become particularly hard for us to notice anyone other than the region’s elect. Elon Musk could not have built Tesla without the fleshy, sweaty labor of thousands of riveters, packagers, and drivers. The founders of Google could have done nothing without the legions of coders, cooks, janitors, and day-care workers. And none of those workers could have come together without the laborers who build and maintain the bridges across the bay, the highways across the valley, and the houses, shops, and factories on which life in the valley depends.

The result of Meehan and Turner’s collaboration is a wonderful reference, visually powerful and curated with great insight, simultaneously historical documentation of the people that make up Silicon Valley and educational resource. An inspiring example of the power of “visual thinking” and nonverbal argumentation, Seeing Silicon Valley is a worthy recipient of the 2021 Eugene S. Ferguson Prize.

Mary Beth Meehan is a photographer known for her large-scale, community-based portraiture centered around questions of representation, visibility, and social equity in the United States. https://www.marybethmeehan.com/

Fred Turner is Harry and Norman Chandler Professor of Communications at Stanford University and is the author of “From Counterculture to Cyberculture”, among other books.