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Hoe Line, Ferguson Prison, Huntsville, Texas from Conversations with the Dead
This photograph is one from a sequence representing a team of black workers going out to work in the fields, watched over by armed guards on horseback and in pickup trucks. In this image they have reached the field and work as a team, preparing the soil for seasonal planting. They wear white prison uniforms and hats to protect them from the hot sun, but some of Lyon's photographs show inmates suffering from heat stroke. He captured this rank of men working together, standing closely side by side in a line that continues to either side beyond the frame. Their postures, and the varied positions of the dark hoe blades, convey a sensation of movement. As they hoe the soil toward them, clumps of dust and clay rise into the air against their white pants. Lyon's images of toiling African Americans, watched over by passive white officers, reflects the racial segregation of the Texas prison system and its lamentable history of slavery.
from Acton, A History of Photography at the University of Notre Dame: Twentieth Century (Notre Dame, 2019)