This spring, I spent a lot time following a sheep shearer around New England and photographing him while he sheared sheep. He’s famous in my local world of sheep farmers as one of the few remaining hand shearers. Most people probably don’t have much cause to think about sheep shearing or how it’s done. Believe me, it takes some skill. Like a dance, one apprentice said. There are specific body positions and movements to be mastered. And how to handle a sheep that is feisty, or skittish. Some are docile and floppy, but when one starts kicking, the shearer has to swiftly move the blade away or else he or the sheep may end up hurt. There are things that are par for the course, like nicks in the skin. But overall, hand shearing is a lot better for the sheep. It leaves more wool on, protecting their skin. This is one image, of Kevin with a ram. Minutes before there was a standoff between the two. Kevin eventually won, the ram was sheared. All 175 lbs of him. A gorgeous creature.
While shearing, Kevin will not always hear you if you speak to him. He’s in a zone, a meditation, just him and his shears and the sheep. Their communication is felt not spoken.
Recently here, when it rains, it rains for days, and when it’s sunny, we need to get busy. The sheep are busy getting sheared. I’ve been roaming Connecticut and Massachusetts photographing so more detailed updates soon on that. Meanwhile, if you are in Boston at the end of this week please join me at the Flash Forward Photo Festival on the wharf, at the Fairmont Hotel. Here are two links:
I’m starting this blog to document work in preparation for a solo show at Bernice Steinbaum Galley in Miami.
Recently, I left New York for Massachusetts’ farm country where I’m working on a series of photographs entitled “Bare Handed” that depict wildlife biologists and farmers who work in tandem with nature. The wildlife biologists range from black bear biologists to beekeepers. The farms include small-scale turkey farms to vegetable farms run entirely by horsepower. These farmers accept the associated risks of low impact farming when free-roaming chickens are lost to predators or organic tomatoes to blight. This notion of facing risks is particularly immediate for a beekeeper that wears no protective clothing and catfish-noodlers that fish for seventy-pound catfish with bare hands. I want to convey the transformation they undergo during their activity and the meditative, reverence they exhibit. Their spiritual conviction for this way of life is something I seek to celebrate. This series marks a departure from my previous work, where I explored my own back yard as if on safari. Now, I seek individuals through research and recommendation to make their actions visible to the general public. Much of the current literature and film presents the negative sides of industrial farming without enough celebration of the positive aspects of small scale, sustainable, local, organic farms. My work is meant to offer solutions to the frightening news stories and documentary films that pervade popular culture.
I have been offered an exhibition opportunity to create a focused body of work within this overall larger project that will explore sustainable sheep farming. The request is for nine photographs at 40 x 50 inches that will be shown as a solo exhibition at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery November 2011 in Miami.
For SOS Guilds I will be documenting the process of making these photographs on a blog as I create the photographic images this Summer 2011. Given the short New England farming season these images will be made from late May through late August. Subjects within sheep farming will include shearing, training animals for agriculture fairs, and working with sheep dogs.
Originally I was interested in the ritual of dressing the sheep in blankets and hoods to keep them clean during the fairs and expected that to be the focus of my images, which would be included in the overall series. Now I am exploring sheep farming in its entirety. I see the distinct contrast in behavior between local sustainable sheep farmers as compared to large ranchers out West. After watching the documentary film Sweetgrass, I was struck by how much dominance over the animals was a theme. With small sustainable farmers they exhibit a reverence instead. It is this tension between dominance and reverence within agriculture, especially with that of livestock, that I hope to capture and explore.
I’d like to acknowledge Sustainable Organic Stewardship (S.O.S.) Guilds support in this endeavor.