Photographers are often onlookers. We stand quietly in the background of an unfolding event watching, waiting, and then recording it for posterity. It’s not our wedding or soccer game or concert we’re attending, it’s someone else’s. And we’re good with that.
In a similar vein, I have been an onlooker for the last several years to the sale of Don’s family’s farm. It ceased operation as a working dairy farm a couple decades ago, and as the years passed and his aunt and uncle grew older, the farm became more difficult to maintain.
Don stepped in about five years ago to help out and, whether he intended this outcome or not, he soon became the point person for the sale and maintenance of the farm. It became, in essence, his full time job.
If you’ve never met Don, suffice it to say he doesn’t do anything half-heartedly. And so, to get the farm “sale-ready,” he didn’t just cut back the brush here and there; rather, little by little, and with a lot of blood (mostly on his head), sweat (all over) and perhaps even tears, he transformed the 200+ acre property into a wildly beautiful Southern landscape, with trails leading to all kinds of tangled and intertwined vines, much like the lives depicted in a good Southern novel. That got my attention.
So … I started photographing the farm a couple years ago both as a personal project and for Don’s family. I plan to make and give them books of farm photographs this Christmas.
The front part of the farm — arguably the heart of the farm due to the house and barn being there — sold earlier this year. The back of the farm — which actually has some of the most beautiful acreage – remains with the family. Nevertheless, I concluded the shooting part of the project last Sunday, the day before the buyer/developer took possession of the front acreage.
The photograph of the deer which you see above is the last photograph. From a photography standpoint, I’d say it’s nice but not amazing. I nevertheless am quite fond of it because, from a personal perspective, it provides a fitting closure to the farm photography project and narrative.
You see, as I was driving out of the farm last Sunday, this deer was also leaving the farm, running parallel to me on the other side of the brushy tree line that runs alongside the driveway. I stopped at the end of the driveway to turn left, and then watched as it jumped gracefully to the other side of the road into a grassy field. It then stared for the longest time back at the farm. As it kept staring – probably waiting for more of its family to appear – I put the telephoto lens back on my camera, got out of the car (which caused the deer to turn to look at me), and took its picture.
So my last “farm photo” was not even taken on farm property. It is of a deer across the street from the farm. But the deer had been on the farm and was looking back, as an onlooker will do, standing quietly in the field, waiting patiently, searching with a focused gaze … until it saw whatever it had been waiting to see.
So yes this photographer and deer are onlookers, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is that the deer who gracefully left the farm at the same time as me and then kept looking back … is a metaphor for Don and his family, now also onlookers both to “progress” and history. I say that because although the farm will soon be repurposed into yet another Williamson County new home development, it will also live on as “the farm” in family memories and in photographs.
My friend Nancy Doyle recently defined heaven as the memories we hold of our loved ones. I think it’s likely that if Nancy had ever stepped foot on the farm she would broaden her definition of heaven to include the memories we hold of our beloved property.
Don – Thanks for all of your hard work on the farm and for sharing your labor of love with me these past several years. Below are some other photos from last Sunday – the snapping turtle who you successfully taunted to snap for its photo, one of the farm’s elusive eight point bucks, and the house before the trees were cut down around it the following day.
Yes, Virginia, there is still a need for still photography, and for onlookers.