Steve Cagan lives in Cleveland, Ohio. He was born in New York City in 1943. HIs education was in English Literature (BA w/honors, City College) and US History (MA, Indiana University). He’s been photographing and exhibiting seriously since the mid-1970s. Major work is in what is often called documentary, but what Steve prefers to call activist or socially engaged photography. He’s most concerned with exploring strength and dignity in everyday struggles of grassroots people resisting their pressures and problems. His avian photography is a by-product of a long-standing love of nature and birding.
Major projects have included:
• “Industrial Hostages,” on factory closings in Ohio;
• Indochina, work done in Viet-Nam, Laos and Cambodia on a visit as a representative of the anti-war movement in the US;
• Nicaragua, work done during several visits over some years, documenting aspects of the changes brought by the Sandinista revolution, and the damage done by the US-supported “contra” war;
• El Salvador, aspects of daily life during the civil war and shortly after. Especially about a community that formed in a refugee camp and returned to found a new town;
• Cuba, again focusing on aspects of daily life in Havana and in the countryside, especially about the struggles of working-class people in the harsh economy after the fall of the USSR;
• “Working Ohio,” an extended portrait of working people.
• Current major project, since 2003: “El Chocó, Colombia: Struggle for Cultural and Environmental Survival,” documenting that threatened rain forest area and the special cultures there. Focus on daily life in Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, and the dangers posed by the violence of the civil conflict and “development” activities that threaten the rainforest environment and traditional cultures.
All the projects in Latin America have been carried out over extended periods of time through visits to the different countries. Steve has not had the opportunity to live permanently in any of those countries.
Steve has exhibited and published photography on four continents. He has published reviews and critical writings in a variety of professional journals and books. Major awards include two Fulbright Fellowships, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and several Ohio Arts Council Fellowships and New Jersey Arts Council Fellowships. Steve taught photography at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, 1985-1993.
Co-author (with his wife Beth) of This Promised Land, El Salvador, which won the 1991 Book of the Year Award of Association for Humanist Sociology. In 1991, he was named “Teacher of the Year” at Rutgers University. The third major event of that spring was being denied tenure at Rutgers.
Recently, Steve has become discouraged about the possibility of getting physical books published. He has turned to the possibility of e-books, which offer a couple of advantages: they can be distributed at very low cost to the reader, and they can be delivered—that is, downloaded—anywhere on the planet where there is an internet signal.
The books he has posted thus far are:
• One he created with a friend, the artist Mary Kelsey, about the damage done to the environment and traditional cultures by current mechanized gold mining in El Chocó, Colombia. In two versions, The Price of Gold in English, and El Precio del Oro in Spanish
• A bilingual (English and Spanish) collection of “bird portraits.”
He is working on a couple of other projects as well.
For Steve, the most satisfying activities are those that allowing him to combine his love for photography and communication with his commitment to social change and support for others. The first area that allows that is work with communities and organizations engaged in struggles for social change—sometimes as an organizer or activist, sometimes as a photographer, and in the best situations, as a combination of both. The other area that allows him to express his values in work is teaching, whether leading workshops, working with young people in informal courses, or teaching at the university/professional level.
More work is at www.stevecagan.com, www.pbase.com/stevecagan, and http://socialdocumentary.net/photographer/stevecagan, among other places.