SBS TV in Australia ran a documentary (made by a Canadian producer?) last night on the Arkansas photographer Mike (Meyers) Disfarmer.
The producers to their credit never overtly criticised the phenomenon of the discovery and sudden collectability value of Mr Disfarmer's work, and maybe I'm just an old curmudgeon, but I was aghast at "collectors" running around Heber Springs offering a token amount for prints of family photographs.
A NY printer who had undertaken to print many Disfarmer portraits was interviewed and commented on the trickiness of printing Disfarmer's negs and his prints were far better than Disfarmer's as might be expected with modern technology; however they weren't "vintage" i.e. printed by Disfarmer so not of the value of the sometimes spotty old prints that some collectors had talked the families into parting with.
Some of those family members were quite bemused by their ancestors' happy snaps being the toast of the town in NY galleries.
Much was made of the "black line" seen in light coloured backdrops which was considered by some aesthetes to be a stylistic watermark of Disfarmer, it turned out to be taped joins which he Disregarded (I'm reminded of some of Lewis Carroll's junk that is apparent in many of his sets)
The guy's work was fine, surely he was a jobbing portrait shop operator. When is the next old darkroom to be discovered to start the next exploitable local photo business. I like his adopted name which meant to him Not a Farmer (unlike those hicks he photographed?)
BTW the photographs restored and shown in Sydney as "City of Shadows" and taken by everyday wallopers of crims and crime scenes leave Disfarmer way behind. Fortunately they are owned by the state archives and not collectors.
Regards - Ross
P'raps yours Ross? It's a phenomenon rather like a tornado that comes through and picks one house, and leaves the rest.
Originally Posted by Ross Chambers
Still Disfarmer's images mesmerize me to the point that I've tried to analyze just why (I've bought 2 of the books). I'm hopelessly sympathetic to the relative innocence (compared to now) of that 1930's and '40's America. That's probably it.
Or maybe it's related to the name Meyer. Vivian Maier's work is enjoying just such a 'discovery'. Uncanny that 2 Meyers have such an odd parallel.
I do have a great regard for vernacular photographs, very often they don't portray the artistic cliches that some of us (me included) manufacture so often. And the window into the past that Disfarmer opened is fascinating.
There are a few books published of anonymous photographs, and they are my favourites.
"City of Shadows" which I mention above knocked my socks off, no attempt at art, no photographers credited, but as a Sydneysider it mesmerises me. To my knowledge only the book of the exhibition is for sale, for a reasonable price.
So I guess my point is that the art marketeers will create a market where ever they can.
Looking at the various "Masters" in the field of visual arts (including photography) one can only conclude that the single criterion of eventual success and recognition is a substantial output. Little else seems to matter.
Like Jim, I too was struck by the innocence of that gentler time. The photos I agree, could have come from very many small town photographers around that time, but his were chosen for greatness for some reason or other. I have been leafing through a book of steam trains by Ivo Peters in the UK, taken at the end of that era in the late fifties and early sixties. Nothing grandiose about these, just well realised recording of the steam trains of the day, and harking back once again to that gentler time.
Probably something to do with my vintage, born in 1951, that makes me like these so much. I would give my eye teeth (and someone else's) to be able to go back and shoot pictures like that!
Interesting Ross, to hear your comments about the "City of Shadows" exhibition, something I must try to see.....hope it comes to Canberra!
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I'm afraid that it is well over, quite a while ago. I'm not aware of it travelling at all.
Originally Posted by tony lockerbie
The book, published by the Historic Houses Trust (same title) reproduces the photographs which were exhibited. Perhaps the curator will prepare another show from the remainder of the collection sometime.
FWIW, there was an exhibit of Disfarmer's work at MASS MoCA last summer: http://www.massmoca.org/event_details.php?id=575