One Farm, One Decade

One Farm One Decade

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect… That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.” Aldo Leopold, 1886-1948

Photographer Dana Matthews and farmer Richard Giles met twenty five years ago at University in the rural deep south. Matthews came from her grandmother’s farm outside Montgomery and Giles from the Delta by way of farms in the Mississippi Black Belt to tramp with their photography professor through some wild and viney parts of the country. Between Matthews’ home in Alabama and Giles’s home in Mississippi lies Hale County Alabama, where Walker Evans and James Agee collaborated to make Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, that indelible document about people struggling to survive in places where food, hardship, beauty and hunger meet. The book left its mark on Matthews and Giles.The realities it documents still describe the lives of small-scale farmers in America today.

The two came north, not together, but by separate accidents and plans and escapes, and nearly as quickly and accidentally found their familiar “south” in the Catskills region of New York State. Delaware County, three hours out of the great city, the watershed from which New York drinks, with its deep rich soils along the rivers, is one of the poorest counties in the state. This ironic tune plays again and again across our country—rich land, poor people; good food gone over to a land of potato chips. After 12 years in Brooklyn, Giles returned to the country to farm small. Matthews came from her art studio in the blighted urban wasteland of Gowanus to her cabin in the woods to breathe and to create. Giles established Lucky Dog Organic Farm, nestled in the bucolic hamlet of Hamden, NY. Matthews turned her insightful lens toward her friend’s work in progress, and a loving decade-long portrait emerged.

Following in the tradition of Walker Evans, Matthews gives us a glimpse into the realities of farm labor that are also reminiscent of the peasant workers painted by Van Gogh and Millet a century earlier. Rather than presenting a romanticized view of farming the images are full of soul and soil. Farm workers toil with shoes rooted in the earth and bodies bending toward the ground. Matthews finds the beauty and harmony in their gestures and elegance in their posture which reflects the dignity and sensuality of their work. Several images are punctuated by the omniscient presence of the workers’ offspring, feral yet innocent. All images were shot on film with a Hasselblad.

Artists and farmers have much in common: both are driven by their desire to connect a broader audience to their work; both struggle financially to create their vision to feed the world. The artist nourishes the soul, the farmer the body. Both are undervalued for the time and hardship of their labor. Yet we could survive without neither.The collaboration between this photographer and farmer began years ago and now lives on in an old farm in a new landscape of local food, clean food, food touched again and again by human hands. One Farm One Decade captures the rhthym and poetry of the land, the farmers and the fruits of their labor so that we might make sense of the life of our food.