Anne Hamersky and Farm Together Now

I’m happy to have Anne Hamersky as our February featured artist.  Anne is an editorial photographer in San Francisco and provided the visual content for the new book, Farm Together Now. I’ve been fortunate to have her input on projects of my own and have always benefitted by her visual wisdom and experience.  She has a vibrant, honest, and clear visual style and is passionate about conveying the narrative and virtue of her subjects.  I’m excited to have her with us.

[To see bigger images, click each to open it in a new window.]

PA)  When and where did Farm Together Now and your interest in the topic begin?

AH) I grew up in Nebraska, where one set of Czech grandparents farmed the land and the other set of Czech grandparents built farmhouses and barns for the farmers working the land. I grew up with homegrown cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and zinnias. We saved seeds from summer to summer. Farming and building longterm projects is in my blood.

After getting a fine art degree in college, I moved out to sunny California and, long story short, became an editorial shooter. I shot for tons of different magazines, including Time, LIFE, and National Geographic Traveler, always preferring a blend of reportage and environmental portraiture. Through the years, I employed a wide gamut of lighting and processing styles (these were film days, anyone remember cross-process?) many camera formats, starting with Nikon FM2, then the crazy widelux, landing for years with my beloved Hassey, and finally a 4×5 field camera. Through ASMP and APA, I learned how to run a successful photo business.

I began cultivating my passion for agricultural photo subjects in early 2000. Then in 2004, when I was driving down Highway One in pre-dawn darkness on my way to shoot Earthbound Farm for People Magazine, I listened to John Kerry’s concession speech on NPR. Rather than wallow in despair over this national political outcome, I had a “Eureka!” moment, and I decided to put my energy into shooting sustainable agriculture, for me a life-affirming subject. I started attending ag conferences, meeting lots of farmers, activists, distributors, gardeners, policy makers, researchers; getting to know the landscape, the language, the challenges, the issues, and the heroes within the community. By following a passion and creating my own “beat,” I set the stage for doing the Farm Together Now book project.

Artist Amy Franceschini and writer Daniel Tucker had a contract with Chronicle Books to produce a book on sustainable agriculture. They asked me if I wanted to shoot the West Coast farms. When I saw their map of the whole United States, I said, “I want to shoot all of them.” We went over the budget, making sure it would work out, and soon I had my dream project with dream collaborators.

PA)  Describe the typical day shooting/producing the project.

AH) I planned the itinerary for the trip for a month, plus. I talked to the individuals, discussing best times to visit, what actions would be happening when, what plants would be at their peak when and who in the family would be around. I pored over maps, figuring out the most efficient and economical route to take. I considered where I could stay on which farm, where I could camp, whose couch I could crash where, how long I could spend on each farm, how many sunrises and sunsets I would witness where, and how many miles I could drive in a day. I compiled detailed itineraries for each day, much like a road manager would do for a band. That blue binder became my guidebook for the 13,000 miles of travel. It was necessary to be super organized going into the project, as the deadline was extremely tight.

I compiled detailed itineraries for each day, much like a road manager would do for a band. That blue binder became my guidebook for the 13,000 miles of travel.

Once out in the field, there was no typical routine. Every day was a mix of different weather, roads, light, crops, urban, rural, big, small, many days with one subject, one hour with the next, dirt, gravel, sun, soil, green, red, all races, genders, voices. For someone as sanguine as myself, I was in my element. Challenging schedule, yes, but a complete blast.

PA)  Describe the specific power of photography as you use it.

AH) Photography has the power to make ideas come to life. We are visually-wired animals. On any given page, our eye will look at the photograph first, then the text. I love that I get first crack at drawing a reader into the story.

Also, for me photography is a very emotional medium. I want my photos to hit the viewer in the heart first, then the head. The human gesture must be genuine and real, within an impeccable composition. This is how I want to communicate the ideas I am passionate about to the widest audience I can reach – quickly and emotionally.

Photography has the power to make ideas come to life. We are visually-wired animals. On any given page, our eye will look at the photograph first, then the text. I love that I get first crack at drawing a reader into the story.

PA)  Describe a few of your favorite on-the-job tools.

AH) I use Canon bodies and lenses. My 24-70mm lens is my favorite all-purpose zoom. I love my 70-200mm glass. (Who doesn’t?) I also love my fixed 100mm lens for macro shots. Sometimes I pull out my 17-40mm for sweeping landscapes. I have a fancypants Gitzo tripod (Legs, Head, Plate) that is like butter in my hands, such a fine piece of equipment. I use a 5-way white/black, gold/silver bounce/fill/scrim collapsible circle; super easy to pack. I use a Think Tank Airport Securitycamera case; hands down best investment I’ve made in a long time. I use a Macbook Pro and a LaCie 500 GB Ruggedto archive work in the field. I use Sandisk Extreme8GB cards. Simple stuff that is light, fast, and easy.

PA)  What do you hope Farm Together Now has accomplished and will accomplish in the future?

AH) The big news, as of a couple weeks ago, is that one of the foremost food journalists in the country, Michael Pollan, named “Farm Together Now” his favorite food book of 2010. And ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) recognized the photo work in its Best of 2010 show.

Ultimately, I hope the audience will be moved to join in, to “farm together now”

These endorsements matter to me because they widen the book’s audience. More people will learn about the leadership that the farmers in the book embody – how they are working to make the food system cleaner, greener, and more just. Ultimately, I hope the audience will be moved to join in, to “farm together now” in whatever way they connect with their own food. If more folks grow lettuce on their front porch, start shopping at the local farmers market, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, or go ahead and buy a tractor, well, bravo. Our conventional food system is draining our natural resources, poisoning the planet, and destroying our health. Ultimately, I want this book to motivate us individually to help change that. That’s my desire. In a nutshell.

Anne, and the other contributors to Farm Together Now, have set up a fund to give 50% of book profits to other artists working on sustainable agriculture projects. Read more about the Agricultlore Fund at farmtogethernow.org/the-agricultlore-fund/.

The book is available on Amazon by clicking the banner at the end of this article (purchases made through links from Photo Arts Monthly help support us financially).

Anne lives in San Francisco, CA and can be contacted via e-mail here: anne [at] annehamersky.com and visited online here: www.annehamersky.com

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  1. […] out this interview with Anne Hamersky, who took all the photos for Farm Together […]