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The Silicon Valley Invisibles

Book. There is this couple, owner of his house to two million dollars (1.75 million euros) and who earns six times the median salary, but explains not having the means to buy nice furniture to equip the large empty rooms of their Los Gatos house; they are the “middle class” of Silicon Valley. And then there are all those, much less well off, who are at the bottom of the social ladder, in this little piece of California that has become one of the most expensive in the world. Imelda, who cleans up rich villas and sleeps in a caravan without a kitchen or a shower. Richard, dismissed from Tesla after becoming a member of the union. Victor, 80, driven out of his apartment by the rent boom and lives, without running water or electricity, a few kilometers from the Google campus.

It is this Silicon Valley, rarely described, never shown, that wanted to document the photographer Mary Beth Meehan. His book, Faces of Silicon Valley, offers a series of meetings, with the hidden side of the glowing campuses of Apple or Facebook. Without falling into misery, the photographer shows the striking contrasts between the world of start-ups and the one in which their employees live.

Contrasts and new myths

Because Silicon Valley is not only a place where the contrasts between the richest and the poorest are particularly marked – it is, after all, true of many places. But Mary Beth Meehan's hollowness also shows another, more subtle, dissonance between the way Silicon Valley sees itself and what it really is. Justyna, ultra-graduated engineer and living comfortably, half-heartedly regrets the time when “She was still an idealist”. Mary, who arrived from Uganda a year ago, feels a loneliness she would never have known in her home village. What is the meaning of this demographic, scientific and economic explosion? “They have too much money, and live only materialism, without any spirituality”says Diane, who has been part of the burg of Menlo Park for years, before the economic boom.

“In many ways, Silicon Valley is our contemporary Plymouth”, written in preface the American essayist Fred Turner, connoisseur of the sector. “Just as the British puritans went sailing in the Atlantic at the beginning of the XVIIe, workers from all over the world, all qualifications combined, now join California. “ And participate, each in their own way, in the construction of a new myth. By making a clean sweep of the past, sometimes tragically. Mary Beth Meehan puts in scene, face to face, the image of a church threatened with demolition by a project of extension of Facebook, and that of a inauguration of start-ups – in both cases, the fervor is palpable.

Faces of Silicon Valley, Mary Beth Meehan (preface by Fred Turner), C & F editions, 112 pages, 33 euros.

Damien Leloup

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