The Spaulding Family Farm Portraits
The Spaulding Farm lies in the countryside of northern Vermont in the small town of Fletcher. The farm was founded in the late 1800’s and has been passed down through generations to John and wife Sue; Joe and his son, Jacob; and Jennifer and her daughter, Miranda. After facing several devastating tragedies yet managing to keep the family and business together, the Spaulding Farm faced its most challenging situation in May of 2001. Along with many of Vermont’s small family-operated farms, where 70 dairy farms a year go out of business and only a dozen are started, the Spauldings, too, found themselves faced with foreclosure. Their only choice was to sell off their herd of livestock and end their struggle as a New England dairy farmer. I began working for and documenting the lives of the Spauldings in the fall of 2001 through the spring of 2002, and again in 2003 when this series of portraits was made.
A portrait always seems so final. Whether viewing or posing for a photograph, there is a level of familiarity surrendered to the image, where a close friend can seem like a stranger, an outsider like a familiar face. When photographing, a muted dialog opens up between the subject and the photographer striking a deep level of collaboration where mutual respect and appreciation are honored. I wanted to demystify any preconceptions the Spauldings had of the formal portrait and its creative hierarchy. Allowing for the degradation of a pristine white backdrop, I encouraged active participation before the lens. There were no rules or limitations as far as I was concerned: one goat or all fifty, the John Deere or the cat, or both.
The landscape within each portrait was important to help characterize each individual, but it became more poignant in its absence when interrupted by the white background. While the separation from the environment focuses attention on the person, ultimately the Spaulding Farm was as much a portrait of this family, as was the person who stood before me.
By including the white backdrop in the photograph I was for the first time placing myself into the documentary. The Spaulding’s lives had been my focus over the course of many months, always vulnerable to the watchful eye of this outsider-turned-friend. Where the tone of daily life often seemed heavy, the portrait session felt like a celebration of whom they are; that is, simply, people. The Spauldings were no longer representing the struggling farmers of the Northeast, rather, they were participating in a photograph that would ultimately represent the person they had become, and who they envisioned themselves to be.
The portrait session became somewhat of a closing ceremony to the documentary project. I had once worked side by side with John, Joe and Sue, entering their worlds and experiencing the satisfaction of a hard day’s work. Here, where the focus was clearly on making a portrait, the family members had to enter my world. This time, the vast countryside or the cluttered corner of a barn was interposed by a stark white background that stared back at me as much as I through the lens.
Click on each image for larger version and caption.