A Brief Review of Paul Mobley’s American Farmer.
By Chris Smith
It takes a certain kind of person to be a farmer. Liberty Hyde Bailey captures this essence of the farmer in his poem “Farmer’s Challenge”:
Blow ye winds and lay on ye storms
And come ye pests in rabble swarms
And fall ye blights in legion forms—
I am here: I surrender not
Nor yield my place one piece or jot;—
For these are my lands
And these are my hands
And I am bone of the folk that resistlessly stands.
More recently, noted photographer Paul Mobley has captured this essence in his excellent book, American Farmer. Mobley, who earlier in his career worked in the studios of Annie Leibovitz and David Langley, traveled the country for three years taking portraits of farmers of all sorts – organic farmers, mega-farmers, ranchers, livestock farmers, produce farmers, flower farmers and even a lobster farmer. Mobley’s vibrant photographs capture the ruggedness of the farmer: e.g., in the skin of the hands and face weathered by “resistlessly” standing against the elements. In an age in which farming is increasingly unpopular and the average age of the farmer leaping rapidly upward, Mobley’s photographs convey the manifold goodness of a farming life: the goodness of doing work that is essential to human life, the goodness of being more intimately connected with other species and all creation, and indeed – as Mobley notes in the afterword – the goodness of living and working in communities that reflect “a kinder and gentler world” (272).
Underlying the vivid portraits of American Farmer is a hymn of gratitude to those who till the soil by the sweat of their brows in order that we might be fed. At the same time, it frames its own sort of “farmer’s challenge,” throwing down the gauntlet as it were to younger generations, calling them on behalf of all humanity into the heroic struggle against the forces of nature. May they hear that call and may they, by “resistlessly standing” against all these challenges, be formed into the next generation of American farmers.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com