Foster's book is an important addition to Latina/o studies and to American photography studies, which has traditionally ignored contributions by this ethnic group. Foster concentrates on barrio life, cultural landmarks of urban Mexican-American heritage, and the urban environment, often highlighting photography as a tool for documenting the marginalization of this minority group through different social technologies, including lynching, urban renewal plans, and police brutality.
Mexican-American life, like that of nearly every contemporary community, has been extensively photographed. Yet there is surprisingly little scholarship on Chicano photography. Picturing the Barrio presents the first book-length examination on the topic. David William Foster analyzes the imagery of ten distinctive artists who offer a range of approaches to portraying Chicano life. The production of each artist is examined as an ideological interpretation of how Chicano experience is constructed and interpreted through the medium of photography, in sites ranging from the traditional barrio to large metropolitan societies. These photographers present artistic as well as documentary images of the socially invisible. They and their subjects grapple with definitions of identity, as well as ethnicity and gender. As such, this study deepens our understanding of the many interpretations of the “Chicano experience.”
Foster brings forward the ideological and semiotic processes that undergird the work of ten Chicana/o photographers working in a variety of modes. His interest in barrio experience is brought forward both through the selection of photographers but also through attention to their engagement with a variety of concerns ranging from form and technique, to narrativity, to gender and representation.