Keeping Farm Photography Local
New England has always had a strong agricultural base, but with the encroachment of development, traditional family farms are becoming increasingly scarce. Perhaps because of this sad trend, I have become fascinated with photography of New England farm life. I am drawn to the architecture, the machinery, the animals and the agrarian patterns imposed on the landscape. Photographically, I find the cyclic pattern of life, death and rebirth to be constantly refreshing and new. There is always something interesting going on at the farm and it is the people who sustain this process that are the most interesting of all.
I am fortunate to have a number of great farms in my area, involved in a variety of agricultural pursuits. Early in my photographic career I decided to find a few local farms on which to concentrate. The advantages of getting to know a farm and the farmers are substantial. In a previous article, I discussed the value of coming back , but it can’t be overstated that exploring a farm in all seasons leads to a understanding of the best locations, times of year and times of day. This, combined with proximity, allows you to be in the right spot at the right time to catch the best conditions and action and that is what photography is all about.
I consider three local farms to be “my own”. They are a dairy farm, a riding camp and farm and a nonprofit working dairy farm and educational center. If you follow me on Flickr or Facebook you have already seen many images from these treasures. My relationship is different with each farm but it is always based on friendliness and appreciation. Our New England farmers are justly proud of their profession and are generally open and warm to those who demonstrate a true interest and appreciation of what they do.
The Hubner Farm in Chesterfield, New Hampshire is a busy, family run, dairy farm. I stop by frequently to see in which pasture the cows are grazing. The farm has wonderful expansive pastures and the owners have invited me to jump the fences any time I want to get closer to the action. The Hubners are friendly folks who once tried to convince me that the gigantic pile of dirt in one corner of a field was actually a massive cold war era bomb shelter. I almost fell for it! They are happy to have me photographing and I reciprocate by giving them copies of some of my best shots, and getting out of the way when the tractor comes down the road
Roads End Farm
Roads End Farm is 360 acres of pastures, and forest and is home to 70 beautiful, contented horses. During the summer the farm is a busy riding camp for girls, but year round, it is a great place to enjoy and photograph a large herd of horses in a relaxed natural environment. My dog Nellie and I faithfully drop by the farm every Saturday morning after going to the dump, and I also visit anytime the weather looks promising. It is amazing how many times I come away with something new and interesting. That is the advantage of living close by. Roads End is the product of the love and commitment of owner Tom Woodman and his staff. Tom is a friend and welcomes my wanderings among his fields and trails. He even calls from time to time to let me know when special photographic opportunities arise. This spring, it was the ferns at their peak of riotous green in the forest glades.
Stonewall Farm is a Monadnock region community treasure. The property has been in agriculture for 250 years. Since the early 1990 it has been protected as a nonprofit working farm and educational facility providing a vibrant practical demonstration of New England farming life. Susan and I support the farm and I am always available to photograph Stonewall’s many exciting events. Most notable of these are the Annual Sap Gathering Contest and the hilarious Dancing of the Ladies. It is a great relationship. I get inside access and they get my photographs to use in promotional materials.
Get Your Own Farm
These are MY farms and, although I love exploring new areas, I always come back. So how do you get your own farm(s)?
The rules are simple and simply obvious, be friendly, come back, don’t get in the way and most importantly, give back.
Seems obvious, but we photographers are often guilty of grabbing shots and running. I believe we often think that people will be threatened by our attentions, but I am always amazed by how warm and supportive farmers are when I approach them without a camera attached to my eye and engage in simple conversation. I introduce myself, give them a card, show them what I have captured, and ask permission if I want to shoot on their land. Mostly they are interested and flattered by the attention. It helps to tell them how beautiful their property is and they will often respond by suggesting new locations or angles. When it comes to local farms this can be the start of a long term relationship.
I have talked about the value of coming back. At times I will feel that I have captured every possible angle and mood at one of my habitual farms only to discover something entirely different and fresh on the next visit. Coming back allows the animals and the humans to become relaxed with your presence leading to much more natural opportunities.
Don’t Get in the Way
It is always important to remember that these are working farms and not just photographic tableaus. You must always be careful to avoid disturbing the animals or the farmers in their daily chores. Understanding the necessary boundaries is simply a matter of being sensitive and asking permission.
I always look for opportunities to give back. The obvious gifts are prints of the best images, but I also offer a copy of my New England Reflections Calendar, especially when their farm is featured. I let the owners know that I am available if they have specific needs for photography. For some years I have given Stonewall Farm my pictures of their events and on one occasion the farm manager gave me an urgent call to come over to photograph their prize winning cow, fresh from the local fair. They hoped I could get the shot before the primped and sparkling Rachel had a chance to roll in the pasture mud. Most often, giving back just means being sincerely appreciative of the beauty of the farms, the animals and of the work that the farmers do, against all natural and economic odds to keep it all going.
~ Jeff Newcomer
Now go out and get your own farms. It isn’t that difficult and the personal and professional rewards are endless.
For more images of MY Farms check out the photo album in this weeks edition of my regular weekly Blog:
My Flickr Sets for each of these wonderful treasures: