Gary Stump - Lancaster, Missouri
"Being together in the rural America it used to be the family could work together...at noon meal they'd be together, morning meal, at evening meal they'd be together. They'd socialize...they were a pretty close-knit family. Now it is fast paced. If I only stayed on the farm and raised livestock, which I'd like to do, and be able to make ends meet, I would probably be able to go to farm bureau meetings, extension meetings, and coach Little League. If I lived in my dream world, I'd probably meet the people just to socialize, to interact, just like they used to 100 years ago."
The stories of farmers and ranchers have inspired my work as a documentary photographer. In 1987, Denton Schwartz, an Illinois farmer took me to the edge of a freshly plowed field and pointed to the horizon, saying, "There is an education out there." From the words of this farmer, my graduate thesis and exhibit took shape in comparing an industrial agriculture world view to an emerging agricultural world view based upon natural production systems.
Listening to farmers in a farmer-to-farmer crisis group I learned how the consolidation and conglomeration of agribusiness was draining the life from the rural social and economic fabric. As I wove together their stories with pictures I began to realize the lessons of everyday Americans, if taken to heart, could inspire others in building a meaningful and satisfying life. Collectively out of shattered dreams and broken lives, new voices lead us to land-based values that strive to renew both the American rural and urban communities.
I have devoted the twelve years since my graduate work to documenting people all over the US who are advancing bold new ideas. I feel compelled to use black and white photography because it is an integral part of the documentary tradition. I photograph people out of a deep respect for their quest to shape their world. I participate in the lives of the people I photograph through living side by side with them, observing their daily lives, and listening to their hopes and visions for self reliant food systems, sustainable development, and an understanding for diverse ecosystems. With each new friendship my soul is filled with the landscapes of their heart.
Finding my way through stories is not easy, so I use photographs as a tool to listen deeply to the stories between stories. I believe there is a design written into each life - a blueprint that can be known - I am reminded of those rubbings that artists make of stone carvings on buildings and tombstones. I imagine what it would be like if we could have a rubbing of our lives, a map that would show us where we are headed and how to get there.
This style I have adopted - weaving photography with oral history interviews - is based on the social reportage standards established by Dorothea Lange, a photographer from the Farm Security Administration in the 1930's. She is known for capturing the spirit of the people she photographed and letting them tell their stories in their own words. Integrating still photographs with the words of the people I produce "small stories" in the format of the video essay.
A monumental photo file of rural conditions was developed by Dorothea Lange and other photographers of the Farm Security Administration such as Russell Lee, Carl Mydans, Gordon Parks, and Walker Evans. Their role as photographers, in part, was to educate the public about the social experience and vital character of renewal of the people in rural America. Today, I document the people of the land who are affirming life and seeking solutions to the declining number of small family farms and ranches. I am seeking people of both the urban and rural communities who are living out the lessons of the land and the wisdom of the natural world. So far, I have traveled over 100,000 miles and listened to more than 100 stories. Now, I would like to share with you what I have seen and heard from farmers and ranchers in GIFTS AND GRACES OF THE LAND.
- CYNTHIA VAGNETTI
GIFTS AND GRACES OF THE LAND represents ten years of self-assigned work, devoted to farm and ranch families who are seeking to renew rural American communities. The traveling photo exhibit of black and white photographs of the people and their words is compiled from the following projects:
Kansas Farm Women: Growing Out of the Tilth featuring 3 Kansas farm women practicing sustainable agriculture. It was created in 1991 as a gift to people of the rural community who were so generous and kind, as I learned to live a different reality. A multi-media presentation and video have been used by the Kansas Rural Center for education and outreach. In 1993, I approached USDA with the idea of celebrating the successes of farmers and ranchers who were participating in appropriate research applied to small farm agriculture. In 1994, Farming in the 21st Century: A Documentary was funded by USDA and a multi-image presentation and video was produced. Sustaining Rural Community Development through Sustainable Agriculture was funded by the University Of Missouri in 1997, with the objective of using photographs and oral history interviews for outreach and evaluation.
In 1996, Jerry DeWitt viewed the USDA funded project, Farming in the 21st Century, and was inspired by the effect of images with voices of farm families and thus grew People Sustaining the Land. It is a co-directed project, funded in-part by USDA and the Wallace Genetic Foundation, documenting 27 farm and ranch families for a book and video which will be utilized for education and outreach purposes across the country and within USDA.
Gifts and Graces of the Land is available by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
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