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A dust storm blows through Arvin, California, south of Bakersfield.

A dust storm blows through Arvin, California, south of Bakersfield.
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Oil pumps can be seen for miles in Western Kern County.

Oil pumps can be seen for miles in Western Kern County.
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Murals in Bakersfield, Calif. show idyllic scenes of the environment.

Murals in Bakersfield, Calif. show idyllic scenes of the environment.
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Kelly Rashad Dixon, 24, recently moved to Bakersfield from Sacramento.

Kelly Rashad Dixon, 24, recently moved to Bakersfield from Sacramento.
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Beach Park Skate Park in Bakersfield.

Beach Park Skate Park in Bakersfield.
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A layer of dust and smog hang over the Valley above the rural town of Arvin.

A layer of dust and smog hang over the Valley above the rural town of Arvin.
Murals in downtown Bakersfield, Calif. show idyllic scenes of the environment.

Murals in downtown Bakersfield, Calif. show idyllic scenes of the environment.
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A haze of dust and smog hangs over the valley floor above Bakersfield.

A haze of dust and smog hangs over the valley floor above Bakersfield.
A passenger train rolls through town past a refinery in Bakersfield, Calif.

A passenger train rolls through town past a refinery in Bakersfield, Calif.


I remember my grandfather driving me home to Bakersfield from vacation when I was 15 years old. We came out of the foothills east of town and in to the valley. In the glow of the remaining light, I saw a thick brown film hanging over town. I realized this was the air I was breathing. This was my home, and it was toxic.

Bakersfield is a working-class, oil and agriculture town at the bottom of the San Joaquin Valley in California. It is surrounded by mountains on three sides. The pollution that hovers above it silently takes years off residents’ lives. Twenty per cent of children in the area suffer from asthma and air pollution costs valley residents billions of dollars every year.

Knowing that a future in Bakersfield is unhealthy, younger people often move away, taking with them their intellectual diversity and potential ingenuity.

There is a reciprocal relationship between residents and the industries that pollute. Generations of oil and agriculture workers take pride in the culture. Conversations about air quality are controversial, as some say regulations are potentially detrimental to the economic success of the area. But, the quality of life degrades as people resign themselves to the conditions in which they live.

This is an ongoing project. I will continue to photograph Bakersfield and the surrounding areas in Kern County to show the complex relationship between the people and industry that makes up the identity of the place.