This post is adapted from an email I sent to Colleen Cecil of the Butte County Farm Bureau regarding a photography project that's been brewing in my head for quite awhile now. I figured that this is as good a time as any to make that idea public...
I've been photographing farms and crops in the Sacramento Valley, both for personal pleasure and commercially, for the past 9 years. In the past couple of years, I've started photographing food as well. If you are one of the people who read this blog, you know most of that.
But I've never focused on photographing the people who run those farms or produce those crops that result in the food we eat. For me, that's a crucial element that is missing - both from my work as a photographer, and from the story I feel I can tell through my work. People grow food. I think we (non-farmers anyway) find it all too easy to forget that fact when all we see are piles of fruit and vegetables in the grocery store.
I've wanted to find a way to show that food is people (well, OK, not in the creepy Soylent Green sense) through my photography. I finally have come up with an idea for a project. I have no idea how it will be received, or even if it will be any good. But the idea is this: I want to create images (not just snapshots) of farmers in their environment and use those images - with text - to tell a bit of their story, the story of how food is people.
Essentially, I want to put a face on the food we all eat. I want people to realize that there are people, farmers and families behind every single thing we eat, even if we never see their faces or know their names.
It's still not completely cast in stone in my mind what the final form of this project will take. I'm planning (as a photographer, of course) to focus more on the images than the text, but I think that images alone can only tell part of the story. Certainly, I would be publishing the images and stories in this blog - and to our food blog. Some of the images might end up on my main website. Ultimately, it might end up as a gallery exhibition or hopefully a book. But right now, I'm just looking for farmers who are willing to work with a photographer and tell a bit of their story.
However, I'll warn any farmer considering participating that the reality of this project will be some idiot non-farmer coming out, asking a lot of dumb questions, setting up lights, and wasting huge amounts of your time fiddling with them to get the 'perfect shot', before he drives off not to be seen again until harvest time when you're honestly too busy to stand around waiting for him to fiddle with his stupid lights again.
Even I don't have a lot of patience for other photographers, but it's really a thankless profession despite all you hear about super models and trips to exotic locations. The most exciting model I've ever shot was a rack of lamb (for me, that's pretty exciting). And as for exotic locations... well, I did get to spend three days in gorgeous Modesto on a shoot last year. So, yeah, I guess photography is a pretty darned exciting profession.
Anyway, I apologize for that in advance, but it is a bit time consuming to get a truly expressive shot, and for some people it can take a while to develop the kind of relationship where you are comfortable having your photo taken. I understand that, and that's fine. At the very least, I'll get to know some cool farmers.
If you are a farmer (preferably within a reasonable distance of Chico, CA) that would like to waste your time with a photographer fiddling with his lights, I'd love to hear from you. If you don't have the patience for it, maybe you know a farmer who does, so please forward a link to this post to them.
I feel blessed to live in one of the most agriculturally productive (and let's face it, beautiful) areas in the world, and I hope that this project can be a small way of giving back to an area that gives us so much.
I'll close with my two favorite all time photos of farmland in the Sacramento Valley, both of rice fields...