May 17, 2010

Disfarmer: The Richard Avedon Of Cleburne County


Mike Meyer, small-town, Depression-era, proto-modernist photographer, changes his name to Disfarmer? Is this story real? Why am I only hearing about this now? These photos are absolutely fantastic.

In the 1930s a tornado swept through the Heber Springs [Arkansas] valley destroying the Meyer home and forcing his mother to move in with a relative. Shortly thereafter, 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.

Disfarmer's reclusive personality and his belief in his own unique superiority as a photographer and as a human being made him somewhat of an oddity to others. Having your picture taken at Disfarmer's studio became one of the main attractions of a trip into town.

Yes, it's real, and in the 30-odd years since Disfarmer's appearance on the fine photography scene, there appear to have arisen some competing attempts to map, preserve, honor, and tastefully monetize his legacy.

While one collector focuses on tracking down vintage prints and making digital prints from them, a New York dealer makes limited edition new prints from what's left of Disfarmer's original glass negatives. Cleburne County always shows a fella from out of town an exciting time!, by Howard Greenberg Gallery, original negative prints, $800 [ via dt reader sara], by collector Michael Mattis's Disfarmer Project, digital prints, $195 []
Several Disfarmer books around, you'll probably need them all [amazon]
Naturally, the Disfarmer story's been adapted for the avant-garde puppet stage []

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