DOWN and DIRTY

DOWN and DIRTY
 
Note to self: “Be careful what you ask for!”
 
My quest for a new personal project boiled down to . . . I NEEDED to get out of my comfort zone, struggle some, and just get dirty. What I hadn’t bargained for was just HOW dirty. Who knew just how much goat pee, poop and placenta I would be rolling around in to get my shots! And … MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! I got REALLY dirty and had an amazingly insightful experience. I kinda like the photos too.
 
They can be found on my website here but read this blog post first.
 
Oh, Yes. Goat pee, poop and placenta. Lots of it.
 

Kidding season.

I had the good fortune to be collaborating with my new friends, Louisa Conrad and Lucas Farrell, the owners of Big Picture Farm in southern VT.

Here’s how they describe their operation:

“… a goat dairy and farmstead confectionery and creamery. Our award-winning goat milk caramels and farmstead cheeses are made with fresh, raw, creamy goat’s milk from our herd of 40 healthy and happy, free-ranging companions. An Animal-Welfare-Approved farm, the health and happiness of our animals is the center around which our farm and farm products revolve. Our mission is also to integrate agriculture and narrative in a fresh way that properly evokes the place, animals, and work in order to bring to life the exciting and unpredictable evolution of our products, farm, and lives. Our goal is spelled out in our name: to provide customers with the rich context surrounding our products (aka “the big picture”)

The goats are led out to pasture after the 5:30am milking.

The caramels get enrobed in chocolate before getting one of 12 edible goat prints;

I’ll share more about Louisa, Lucas, the goats and the rest of the Big Picture Farm crew in a moment.

First, in searching for my personal project, I needed to stretch creatively, technically and refine my brand’s visual voice. I revisited the always introspective and enlightening “LOVES Clustering Exercise.” I arrived at some new conclusions and reaffirmed some enduring ones. I needed to get crystal clear on what I love most, and seek more of this in my subject matter. A partial list of my loves include: joy, ritual, passion, life cycle events, entrepreneurship, Americana, perseverance, community, family, creativity, nature, and journeys, both as physical travel and as a metaphor for personal discovery.

My personal project was becoming clearer. As one of the many photographers in the field who describe ourselves as storytellers, I needed to refine my visual voice to better distinguish myself. That started with finding an overall theme, one that could spawn multiple “stories” over time in which I could capture probing portraits and lifestyle imagery of work, life and play. I arrived at my theme – “Know thy Neighbor.” So often we don’t really know who lives in our midst. I seek to introduce fascinating folks who live inspiring lives, promoting community in unique ways.

As for raising the bar technically, I needed to elevate my production value to more fully realize my storytelling vision. More than not I’ve been a McGyver kind of photographer, working with what I’m given on assignment with regard to location, talent and styling. Now, self directed, I wanted to pre-produce more, cast, scout and style these stories.

Creatively, I needed to go deeper and immerse myself more fully than I’m afforded on most assignments. I sought to capture the essence of my subjects in genuine, authentic moments, in support of my brand’s “planned spontaneity” visual style. This would be advertorial coverage; combining an advertising objective with an editorial feel.

Baby Maisie and her backup band. Goats typically have 2 and sometimes 3 kids when pregnant.

I know that to succeed as a photographer, I must always dig deeper. In addition to sharing great stories, this project for me was to get raw, overcome resistance, persevere and draw new lessons. This ain’t easy! I hate the phrase “trust the process.” To me, this often means having to endure physical and emotional pain (real and perceived). It means failures. It means inconvenience and inefficiency. These are all things I despise and am hardwired to avoid. Ahhh, the creative process!

Armed with newfound momentum and clarity, I sought out longtime friend Melany Kahn, who I affectionately call “the Mayor” as she seems to know everyone in the Brattleboro, VT area. I’d grown fond of the region and the people, having visited many times over the years. Asking for help was my first big stretch. Oh, boy! Did it ever pay off with Melany’s wonderful network!

Enter Louisa and Lucas. They met at Middlebury College, where I’ve captured some of my more memorable Higher Ed images spanning 20+ years. As their story goes, Louisa, the upper east side Manhattanite art major met Lucas, a Colorado poetry major, and a circuitous route of love, life and learning led to marriage and purchasing a goat farm with a noble vision. Incredibly hard work, lessons learned, awards, business and personal growth, and a baby follow. They’ve co-created in their life and work something that beautifully captures many of the “loves” I share. Big Picture Farm appeared to be an ideal fit to kick off my personal project’s first story. It’s location, people and animals provided me a classic and contemporary canvas to capture todays’ diverse Americana.

If only this Barn could speak. What stories it could tell : )

Creativity abounds in all aspects of the Farm.

The core concept of their “Big Picture” was precisely what I wanted to present on my website for my viewers. I want to showcase three dimensional access to my subjects. I want to provide an insider’s view of their daily doings and visual context to their products’ origin. It was through pre-production conversations and my scout visit that I learned about the rhythm and personality of the farm, goats, kidding, caramel production, chores, distribution of the product, etc.

BY PAYING MORE ATTENTION, I LEARNED or RELARNED:

SLOW DOWN I’m so accustomed to shooting under pressure AND being pressed for time. I had to slow myself down to balance making things happen and allowing things to happen. At my best I blend the two into my “planned spontaneity.”

ASK FOR WHAT I WANT When I’m shooting, if it’s close, but not quite fulfilling the vision, I need to ASK for what I want. Subjects more often than not will accommodate.

CLAIM THE TIME 2 visits to shoot was not nearly enough time to produce a truly comprehensive documentary of Big Picture Farm. Yet, I claimed more time than I’m accustomed, and am so grateful.

PERSEVERE I scouted so many different angles within the barn, and just couldn’t quite find what i was seeking with this iconic centerpiece. Finally, I found it. Then my lighting sucked, so I wrestled it into the success I sought.

EXPERIMENT and DEBRIEF Testing new equipment and experimenting with creative techniques requires trial and error. Don’t hesitate. Take detailed notes while immersed in the experience. Review those notes to benefit from lessons learned. Don’t let distractions get in the way. Follow through.

TAKE A LEAP OF FAITH I encountered last minute disappointments on subject and assistant availability. I chose to suck it up and forge onward anyway. Then the cavalry arrived, Grace, the Farm Manager stepped up last minute to help me, although she had no photo experience. The great news was that she knows the goats and the farm intimately, and was invaluable on the shots she assisted with. Also, Louisa was able to juggle many conflicting schedules, so we got what we came for and then some. Phew!

PREPARE, REPEAT I had pre-visualized the shoot as much as possible to position myself well, and be present to all that unfolded, while remaining open to serendipity.

FLEXIBILITY I was prepared, and shit still happens. By being “dialed in” and keeping in mind the overall story I wanted to tell, I adapted to changes more fluidly.

COLLABORATE Enrolling folks with my vision and shot list, and then showing them scout shots, enabled us to capitalize on their many talents and ideas to improve the shoot. So many people contributed in meaningful ways enhancing the outcome.

SET UP FAST Getting equipment and materials in place quickly allowed me more time for tinkering with the lighting and variables in the scene.

OBSERVE With the gift of time and developing trust, I felt I got to learn the subtle body language and the nuanced facial expressions of my subjects – even some of the goats!

FIND A WAY TO TEST EVEN WITHOUT AN ASSISTANT Finding a stand-in subject to test optics and composition enabled me to capitalize on the available time. When the subject arrives, I’m ready.

GIVEN THE CHANCE, BREAK BREAD The human-ness of people is most often found over a beverage, a meal, and just being real. I didn’t want to impose on my hosts, considering how much I intruded on their business days. It was also easy to just hole up and chill out alone. I’m so grateful to have taken Louisa and Lucas up on their invitation to share meals, opportunities to connect and engage even more than we otherwise would have.

ALWAYS CARRY MY CAMERA As much as I use my camera phone, I’m sure glad I brought the real ones to meals. I captured some genuine family moments in greater detail than otherwise would have been possible.

Maisie loves her spa treatments.

REVELATIONS FROM THIS PROCESS

Through this experience I was gratified to discover that I got better at navigating the stuff over which I have little control. Farm life and photography schedules both involve long days, heavy lifting and plenty of variables. On the Big Picture Farm, I worked without my trusted photo assistant. I dealt with rain, heat, humidity, mosquitoes and gear malfunctions. I lugged my lighting gear around the farm, and maneuvered that gear in and around the goats and other four-legged friends. They don’t take direction as well as humans. Remember the goat pee, poop and placenta? Squishing around in that on trip number one was, shall we say, … memorable. Of course, the reality is this is all part of my job responsibilities as a location photographer which makes it both stimulating and fun. Being adaptable to the unpredictable enabled me to stay present to my vision and focus on creative solutions.

Truly the most revealing insight from my struggle was with what I CAN control…you know … all that “feeling” stuff. The wrestling match was between me, myself and I; in my head and heart! Once I trusted the stinkin’ process and succumbed to getting down and dirty the struggle was no more.

Caramel pour.

The caramels are carefully wrapped for freshness.

Louisa’s beautiful watercolor artwork makes for distinctive packaging.

Big Picture Farm is AWEsome. I can’t say enough about the people, the place and the products. They are all of exceptional quality.  Having become an addict of their delicious sweets myself, please go treat yourself or a friend to some of their heavenly products!  Or, follow them on Instagram @bigpicturefarm.

BIG THANK YOU to Melany, Louisa, Lucas, Maisie, Kitty, Grace and Regina, and the rest of the team down the hill!

Please check out a library of images on my website bobhandelman.com

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One Comment

  1. Isaiah D. Cooper July 18, 2017 at 6:08 pm #

    Bob,
    I love the photos and your blog comments on the process of getting the shots at Big Picture Farm! It doesn’t hurt that human subjects in these shots are both interesting and beautiful!
    I really like the big picture of you Bob. I mean the 7th photo from the top of the blog (if my count is correct), the photo of your shadow. I know you are in the 8th photo, too. However, I like the 7th one more!
    I look forward to seeing more work like this!
    Love,
    Isaiah

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