This article traces photography’s double-edged role in mediating capitalism’s relationship with dependent laborers. It analyzes five photo-narratives published in the 1950s in the United States focusing on Mexican migrants working in the country as part of the bracero program. Certain photo-essays marshalled photography’s evidentiary properties to argue that workers became model patriarchs, satisfied laborers, and avid consumers, presenting the program as an agent of class uplift and mobility while repressing braceros’ political agency. In other photo-essays, the presence of braceros in the photographers’ images together with the accompanying text served to articulate resistant political subjectivities contesting twentieth-century capitalism’s impact on migrant laborers. Braceros acted as political subjects through circulated photographs that protested core, universal features of capitalism’s structure: the effacement of workers’ labor, the expropriation of their labor-power, and the (re)production of inequality. Photo-essays of braceros thus demonstrate photography’s capacity to reproduce capitalism and, at the same time, the camera’s potential to radically interrupt its workings by enabling workers’ agency and challenges to regimes that exploit and expropriate their labor.

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