I recently had a conversation with one of my fellow artists here at Ucross about studio portrait photography and this led to Mike Disfarmer. It reminded me of this post and the great comment left by one of his subjects’ ancestors, so I thought I’d repost it. And re: the last paragraph, I’m still grappling.
I was looking through Disfarmer, Heber Springs Portraits, 1939-1946, a gorgeous book of Mike Disfarmer’s photographs. The following paragraph from the essay by Julia Scully struck me.
What distinguishes this product of a seemingly ordinary Main Street portrait studio from that of others on every Main Street in the United States? In seeking an answer, we must consider the character of his subjects, the time in which they were recorded, and the photographer’s artistry.
This set me thinking: is there something that distinguishes A Life’s Work from other documentaries? The character of its subjects (unique) and the time in which they are recorded (now–there is no better time) are distinctive. But what about the filmmakers’ artistry?
Modesty prevents me from blowing my own horn, but I will say this: somehow I manage to inveigle cinematographers and editors of the highest artistic caliber to work on A Life’s Work. I like to think it’s the subject matter of the film that hits home–all artists want to create something that outlasts them. When the darkest clouds are hovering over the film, I think of my talented colleagues and their belief in the project and then more often than not those clouds disperse.
But about the Disfarmer photos! I feel like there’s something else going on between Mike Disfarmer and his portraits and me and A Life’s Work, but I can’t quite articulate it. Check out his photographs and if you can make a connection, let me know.