Smyrna Mills, Maine, USA
Time / Date:
Various – between the summer of 2011 and fall of 2012
Camera Body: Nikon D700
Lens: Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and Nikon 50mm f/1.8
Shutter Speed: various
Focal Length: various
I grew up in New Zealand on my family’s dairy farm and came to photography in my early thirties after working as a corporate lawyer for several years. It wasn’t until I got to Maine and started my first project for school and was thinking about what I was really interested in that I realised how much my background on the farm had influenced me.
I was in Maine for the summer of 2010 to go to the Maine Media Workshops and ended up staying for a year to go to school. The first project I did was on an organic potato and seed farming family who live in Aroostook County. That came about because I was looking for stories in the Rockport and Camden area of Maine and went to an orchard to speak to the owner and some neighbors who’d dropped by. They were talking about harvest season in Aroostook County, a few hours away, and how the schools had harvest holidays so the students could help. Obviously with larger farms and mechanization, it wasn’t as necessary as it used to be and so the practice of school harvest break seemed to be changing. But I didn’t realize I had any interest in farming stories until I got there and started photographing.
Jim Gerritsen, the dad, would often talk about the farming philosophies he had, especially as they related to looking after the land for the next generation. One day he mentioned being influenced by his Amish and Mennonite neighbors and that lead to him putting me in touch with the Hilty family so I could continue to photograph the idea of sustainable farming in another community.
Because the Hilty family lived many hours away from me and they don’t have a phone or email our main mode of first contact was written letters. So I started writing to them and said that I would really like to meet them, why I was interested in the farm, where I came from. They wrote back and said I could come meet them and after our first meeting and giving them time to consider whether they wanted to be a part of the project they wrote back to say I could come and stay.
My approach to making images is to be a part of the team when possible and to drop out of the action and become a fly on the wall when I’d anticipate the light or moment was good. I met this great photographer in Maine called Jon Edwards. He had done this fabulous project about a seaweed farmer and he talked about how he’d help with the harvesting and when the light looked good, he would stop and photograph. I guess I stored that advice in the back of my head. I guess the other part of it is that I like to be busy and part of a team so being a team member as well as the photographer fits me best. Perhaps it also means I must miss a lot of images though.
My hope with the project, which is ongoing, is that people will think about their actions and what they’re doing now and how that impacts the next generation. I think this philosophy applies not only to farming.
Another goal of the project is that people might be inspired to either figure out where their food comes from or to put their hands in soil themselves.
For this shoot I was staying with the family for three or four days and flittering between helping on the farm and photographing. We’d get up at 5.30am and I’d be exhausted and in bed at 9.00pm.
I really enjoy photographing with all sorts of cameras not just DSLRs. When I first got started in photography in 2010 I loved using a Holga because it made photography so much fun. Instead of trying to be good you were just free to have fun and that’s when the more interesting pictures showed up.
I really don’t think the kit is important. What is important is what you bring to the situation: your perspective, compassion, aesthetic, and persistence. To me those things matter more than what camera you are shooting on.
Making the Shot:
Looking at the image of Velma, Betty and Ellen peeling and bottling peaches for the winter: this is just a found image when I came back inside, which I was drawn to because of the colour, the beautiful window light and the quiet sense of purpose.
When it came to make this shot I was initially attracted to the scene because of the light and colours, but also because of the communal nature of the task. I took a series of five or six images and chose this one because of the positioning of the women and how their body positions give a quiet movement to the image.
The sort of images I aspire to make all have a genuine gesture and connection. I also like my images to have spatial depth and aspire for them to also have depth through the layering of images into a story.
Editing & Processing:
I don’t have a complex workflow when editing or processing my images. When I edit I do a really quick flick through where I star anything I like the look of, then I try and give a bit of space before I go through and refine the one star selects to two and the two stars to threes – then I process those three stars. In terms of post-production – the color images look pretty darn similar on the website to how they looked on the back of my camera. In the edit I’m basically looking for great light, colour, gesture and whether the image adds anything to the story.
Looking back on this project and reflecting on it for The Image Story it just makes me wish I lived closer to Maine so I could spend more time on it and more time with the Hilty family. Perhaps there are just some projects where you are never finished photographing. I love this personal work because there is no deadline and I am discovering the story as I go along and shaping it with each visit. I like the challenge on an editorial shoot of trying to create intimacy in a few hours, but I much prefer the intimacy created by staying with and visiting the same people over and over again. Because of what I’ve learned on doing personal projects when it is possible to stay with subjects for an editorial shoot or be with them super early or late in their homes or to take time to have a long cup of tea just to talk about life then I like to take that time out from photographing and just hang out.
Gosh, I don’t feel qualified to give advice at such an early point in my career. But I guess if someone wants to be involved in this type of photography then you have to be yourself, listen, put the camera down, build a real relationship and you have to be prepared to dedicate time.
New York based Kiwi photographer Mel Burford is a huge inspiration of mine and I was lucky to hear her speak a few years back and her advice always rings out to me. In a recent article in PRO Photographer Mel spoke with writer and photographer Elliott Woods about how cultivating trust in order to make her intimate photographs takes more than just mere persistence. “It’s showing respect and giving people the right to say no, to not be photographed. The moment you give that control to them, they don’t feel like they’re being pushed into a corner…That freedom to say no is huge.”
As a visual storyteller I believe that everyone has a story – something touching, compelling, or enlivening about their journey through the world. I feel incredibly privileged to meet people and have them let me into their lives, whether it is for a few hours or a much longer time period.
As a photographer my goal is to share stories. I’m attracted to the quieter stories of the everyday and strive to find a way to reveal character and show connection while hopefully reminding people that what’s in our backyards is worthy of more than just a passing glance.
At the moment I an incredibly inspired by radio and how the reporters and editors manage to transport you to an incredibly visual place without using images. I can’t get enough of Radiolab, This American Life, State of the Re:Union.
About the Photographer
I’m an ex corporate lawyer who sometimes misses it and is always grateful for the friends I made while working late into the night in New Zealand, the UK and Russia. My path took a 180 when I moved to the States in 2010 after seven years listing companies on stock exchanges and took a certificate course at the Maine Media College, a photography school I luckily found through googling “photography school, summer, USA”.
During my brief time in the States I attended the Eddie Adams Workshop, the Center review at Santa Fe, TA’d for photographers and multimedia producers at the Maine Media Workshops, was a part of the Ctrl+P emerging photographers’ show at the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago, interned at VII Photo Agency in New York City and freelanced for magazines in the South and the North East as a photographer and writer.
Since returning home to New Zealand in 2013 I’ve been working on launching, editing and writing for New Zealand Geographic’s sister publication, PRO Photographer magazine www.prophotographer.co.nz, which is a beautifully designed magazine dedicated to imaging professionals both in New Zealand and internationally. I’ve also made my foray into food photography working with Thom and PQ Blackwell on The Great New Zealand Cook Book – a homage to the incredible food and people involved in New Zealand’s food industry (due for release in June).
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