Sometimes I think I’m meant to just wander around in my everyday life and find people who inspire me. Isn’t that what we do? As photographers, I mean? Carry a camera, practice seeing, and get familiar with the feeling in your gut that tells you you are seeing something special? Nourish your response to that feeling so that you are able to recognize and respond to it with the deftness of an emergency surgeon? Refine your technical craft so that you can instantly translate that feeling into a 2 dimensional visual record before the moment passes? Maybe you don’t see exactly what’s in front of you as you take the picture, you already see the final result even before you’ve pushed the shutter…
The first time I met Chuck I wasn’t ready. I gasped when I saw this gentleman farmer approaching, carrying a wooden box filled haphazardly with glorious squash and beans from his fields, a round straw hat pulled firm yet jaunted back in a secure farmerly way, a lovely - and clearly loved - tweed blazer. I was shy. I snapped a photo but it really was nothing more than a snapshot.
I regretted that moment. I wanted to go back in time and frame that gorgeous round hat brim perfectly. Hit a slow-down button so that people and barn shapes behind him could shift into perfect composition. Nope, I missed it.
This fall I went back to photograph the same event again - an annual collaborative meal presented by local chefs and farmers - and I was delighted to see Mr. Cox there. This time I pushed past my shyness and asked if I could borrow him for a moment. You’d think I’d be over that shyness by now, photographing countless people every week for over ten years. But no, my shyness is still a bit paralyzing at times, I have to force myself to reach out, speak up. I’ve learned over the years that if I wait too long to take that first step, reach out to a person I want to meet, the moment passes, or, I get so full of nerves that I can’t really function fully in the conversation after it starts. So, the best strategy ends up being the impulsive one, the leap.
Chuck is highly regarded among the local farming and chef community, and he was recognized at the Heirloom Harvest Barn Dinner with the Heirloom Farmer of the Year Award. His award included a corn and seed roasting drum for processing meal and oil… I really don’t know exactly what that is, but he sounded pretty excited about it. After I made this photo, he brushed the soil off one of the turnips and sliced it open to share with me. This turnip is a Gilfeather, which has a long and storied history here in New England. Cox and his family cultivate these at their farm and this bracingly sweet and crisp jewel of a vegetable was featured on the menu at this year's dinner. Farmers, gardeners, and locavores: this is the Gilfeather Turnip.
This portrait is a reminder to me of many of the things I love about photography - light, eyes, connection with people. I love learning about the human experience, and learning how others are related to my own life and place in the world.
Learning doesn't need to (shouldn't) end at a certain point in one's profession. We should all be open to continuous education, refining our craft, lifelong improvement. Learning is itself a craft which must be welcomed, cultivated and nurtured. I started Inspire because I wanted to create more opportunities to learn from people I admire and respect in the photography industry, and share these opportunities with others. I wanted to create a place where people could learn from everybody present, not just the instructors, and in fact where the instructors themselves could benefit from the environment of this place. Inspire is a collaborative event.
I suppose this is part of what impresses and inspires me about the farmer Chuck Cox: his whole life is spent farming, improving the land, preserving heirloom seeds and varieties, developing and teaching about sustainable farming practices, learning new techniques, and always carefully and reverently preserving the piece of land for which he is responsible. All of this I'm sure gives him great personal satisfaction. But in the end farming is ultimately a selfless act, the results of which will affect people and land far beyond the boundaries of his property and the turnip he holds in his hands. Teaching is much the same. Good teachers recognize that the more they have to offer, the more vast the lessons are for them to learn. I am so thankful for the photographer-teachers who are readying their curriculum for Inspire 2014, all while they simultaneously eagerly await the opportunity to attend Inspire and learn from each other and all their other peers.
And I am thankful for farmers, dirt, and sweet rare turnips.
Enna Grazier dreamed up Inspire Photo Retreats and founded it with the support of her husband Matt and a team of amazing photographers. Enna and Matt run Grazier Photography and live in Exeter New Hampshire with their two boys, black lab dog, and very very shy tiger cat.