Disfarmer (Mike Meyers)


Classic photographers

“The eccentric photographer known as Disfarmer (1884-1959) seemed to be a man determined to shroud himself in mystery. Born Mike Meyers, the sixth of seven children in a German immigrant family, Disfarmer rejected the Arkansas farming world and the family in which he was raised. […] Disfarmer built a studio on Main Street and became a full-time photographer. Using commercially available glass plates, Disfarmer photographed his subjects in direct north light creating a unique and compelling intimacy. He was so obsessed with obtaining the correct lighting that his lighting adjustments for a sitting were said to take sometimes more than an hour.”

I’ve always had a little bit of a weird feeling about the way this photographer’s work was being presented, and it got a bit worse after I read this: “The present historical reclamation project began in February 2004 […] a dedicated team of historically-minded locals was quickly trained and mobilized; ultimately they combed every dirt road in Celburne County in search of Disfarmer originals. From the outset, an integral part of the project was educating an initially skeptical rural community that their albums of old family photos were likely to contain objects of significant artistic and cultural value that could - and indeed should - be brought to the attention of a wider audience” (from “Afterword, Disfarmer Rediscovered” by Michael P. Mattis in Disfarmer: The Vintage Prints)

A “reclamation project”? Wow, none of the meaning of the word “reclamation” make this look good (and let’s not ignore the fact that the photos were intended to be used for what they were used before they were “reclaimed” - the actual reclamation would be to get the photos from the collectors and give them back to the families that owned them). Educating “an initially skeptical rural community”?

I don’t know what it is, but my thoughts keep coming back to descriptions of European settlers, trading valuable goods from North America’s Natives in exchange for glass beads.
(updated post)