“The earth is what we all have in common.” - Wendell Barry
Throughout literature and art history, the agricultural community has often been closely associated with themes of dignity and reverence. I myself call to mind Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath as two examples of literary classics that convey man’s connectedness with the land as a powerful bond that ultimately defines and sustains the characters’ existence. Likewise, one may look no further than Jean Francois Millet’s The Angelus, a painting depicting a man and a woman standing in a field, heads bowed down in prayer, as a commentary on devotion and veneration associated with working as a steward of the land.
I am rooted in a foundation of agricultural ancestry. Raised on a small dairy farm bought and cultivated by my grandfather then passed onto my father, I have witnessed first-hand the amount of time and labor this vocation demands. I call family farming a vocation in that it is more than just an occupation. It is a way of life.
I have always been moved and inspired by the steadfastness of my father. His unquestioning faith and his ability to take on physical demands day in and day out have had a profound impact on the way I live my life. It is his image, captured unbeknownst in a moment of prayer, that stands at the center of the series. In many ways this photo shares the sentiment of The Angelus – my father seated in the environment that, for him, is the natural context for both his spiritual and physical being.
This image was the inspirational starting point of a photographic journey into my community to capture the portraits of those who share in this similar tradition. On the faces of the older generation of men in my community I perceive the value of hard-work, self-reliance, and perseverance. In the words of a fellow classmate, “These photos are so honest to me. So true to what my perceptions are of the older farming generation. Sad but proud - burdened but honorable men.”
Today, small farming is on the decline due to financial constraints, the rise of industrial farming, and, surprisingly, the lack of knowledge on how to farm. Farming is no longer an inherent trade, passed down from generation to generation. Thus, this series stands as a representation of the face of a changing culture – and a history that I honor and find myself undoubtedly connected to.
Thank you to all the members of my community for supporting my pursuit of this project. There were many other community members – both men and women – who were part of the project, but whose images are not on display. To everyone who participated: I am grateful to have you as friends, family, and neighbors – thank you.
This series is dedicated to my father, whose life-long commitment to farming has made it possible for me to pursue my own artistic aspirations.