Art Director: Sarah Gephart, MGMT. design
Photography Directors: Luise Stauss and Ayanna Quint, Stauss & Quint
Photographers: Richard Bailey, Henk Wildschut, Grant Cornett, Daniel Shea, Lauren Fleishman, Tom Schierlitz, Rush Jagoe, Alexi Hobbs, Cedric Angeles
LS & AQ: Farming and agriculture are diverse subjects, encompassing many different global issues which are so rich photographically. We cover everything from food production to climate change to politics. What’s been exciting for us has been the international focus of the stories, what has given us the opportunity to work with photographers on every continent. We are drawn to photographers who are passionate about their work and curious about the world around them. Many of their personal projects and editorial work display a sensitivity and humanity without being sentimental. For example, we ran a photo essay by Cedric Angeles that was a personal project he had been working on about shepherds worldwide for the past 20 years. While working on assignments for more glamorous stories, he carved out time to document the life of local herders. He isn’t afraid show how difficult the farming life is while still creating beautiful and arresting images.
LS & AQ: Modern Farmer in the brainchild of Ann Marie Gardner. Luise worked very closely with her and Art Director Sarah Gephart of MGMT. design studio to develop the look and feel for the prototype; Ayanna came on board for the first issue and as the issue came together we refined that further. Modern Farmer is for anyone who cares about where their food comes from and the demographics of the subscribers represent that. It runs the gamut from 3rd and 4th generation farmers to those who can only grow basil in their kitchen window. The goal is to provide in-depth reporting that is entirely approachable no matter your agriculture background.
Can you share the cover direction? It is always an animal portrait to set the magazine apart from others?
LS & AQ: As the first issue was coming together, we were defining the aesthetic of the magazine and looking for an image that was striking and would set us apart on the newsstand. It was an organic process, working with the art director, Sarah Gephart, and the editors to refine that vision. Richard Bailey’s rooster was one of many options we tried for the cover, but we knew the minute we saw it that it worked. He really is a handsome rooster! The great thing about having an animal on the cover of each issue is that it allows for many different audiences to identify with the magazine. Richard has shot every cover since then and these animal portraits have really come to define the visual identity of Modern Farmer.
Are there handlers for these animals and are they hired, or actual farm animals; about how long is a cover session?
LS: All the covers shoots take place in the UK, where Richard is based. A session usually takes from a couple of hours to half a day at most. There are no professional handlers but because we shoot at active farms, the farm hands help keep things under control. The animals are in constant motion and have to be walked and maneuvered back and forth in front of the back drop so it requires patience. When a 500 pound pig or a Mammoth Jack donkey or a British Blonde Bull doesn’t want to be somewhere, no-one is going to stop it.
We shoot a variety of breeds for the inside and for the cover we look for the animal where the strongest character and personality come through. This makes for some funny cover discussions when you are talking about a pig. Each breed has a society, like the British Goat Society which connects breeders with farmers and it is through them that we find our subjects. Richard then travels all over the UK for the shoots. For the goat feature he found the only small farmer in the UK who breeds Nigerian Dwarf goats on a smallholding in Lincolnshire next to a Royal Air Force base. As he arrived, there were maneuvers going on in the air, as WW2 Lancaster bombers and spitfires flew low overhead in preparation for a show the following weekend and there were maneuvers going on in the farm. Richard was ushered straight in to the barn to see twins being born to one of the does. The farmer immediately named them after Richard and his assistant.
How do you use instagram as a photo source?
LS: We meet with photographers as often as we can. We were looking at Rush Jagoe’s book this Fall and he mentioned a farming collective in New Orleans of out-of-work fishermen, who built a Growers Initiative in reaction to the natural disasters they lived through. Luckily, the lineup was just coming together for the upcoming issue and we were able to include his pitch in the issue.
LS: We always keep an eye on gallery shows, photo blogs, books and festivals, and make note of good photography around food production and agriculture. I saw Henk Wildschut’s book ‘Food’ at Paris Photo last year and was impressed by the depth of his research. Starting in 1975 the Rijksmuseum’s department History of the Netherlands has given an annual assignment to a photographer, including an exhibition, titled Document the Netherlands, with the idea to register a current aspect of Dutch society in a series of photographs. Henk had shot large scale Food production in Holland over the course of 2 years creating perceptive and emotive images, making it a perfect marriage of photographer and story for this Modern Farmer piece.
Tell me about the direction for the food waste project. What was the creative brief to Grant?
LS: The brief was to create images for a 10 page package on how, why and where edible food gets thrown out, amounting to half of the total food supply in the US, which is wasted in every step of the food chain: from farm to retail to consumers. Grant’s work had caught my eye while working on the food pages of the New York Times Magazine and I was looking for an opportunity to work with him. His graphic studies of food as objects as in his Beautiful Decay series made him a great match for this project. Grant often works with the food Stylist Maggie Ruggiero and the set designer Theo Vamvounakis, both huge talents. Their collaboration on Gather Magazine is really impressive. I was lucky to get them together for this assignment.
I worked closely with the editor Reyhan Harmanci on the waste statistics to give to the team. One of the challenges on reporting that was the lack of great numbers, which underlined how much we need to improve on not wasting food–no one was counting! We ended using two main sources: FAO, a UN group that has done a lot of work on food security and infrastructure and a University of Arizona researcher who treated garbage as archaeological remains. He literally dug in America’s trash to catalog what we ate and what we tossed. That research allowed us to then recreate the average American food waste in the main photos.
What made you choose Daniel Shea for the GMO project?
AQ: I’d worked with Daniel before at The Atlantic and am a huge fan of him and his work. His portraits are wonderful of course and he’s done some personal projects (Blisner, IL and Coal Work) that have a real engagement with the landscape and the environment so I thought he’d be a good fit. There’s a real poetry to the way his subjects interact with the world around them but he’s able to translate that well for an editorial shoot so the images remain grounded in the story. I had been looking for a chance to work with him from the first issue and was glad it came together so quickly. It took 7 issues before we were able to work with Alexi Hobbs, who has a great story in the issue that’s coming out next month. There are so many great photographers out there, and so few assignments!
AQ: I follow Lauren on Instagram and had kept track of her for over a decade but hadn’t had the chance to assign her anything. She’s now based in Paris and I thought her work was a good fit for the magazine. When I contacted her, she mentioned that she’d always wanted to shoot at a farm but hadn’t had the opportunity yet. She really made the most of the shoot and captured so many aspects of this beautiful farm. The outtake that we used on the TOC is so lush and earthy, you can almost smell the soil. The shoot happened to fall on her birthday. Perrine somehow found out and gave her a huge bag of vegetables as a gift to take back to the city with her.
Do you use your still life opportunities to off set or surprise the readers?
LS: It is great to be able to create a polished and poppy product shoot for a farming magazine where it’s so unexpected. It’s also an opportunity to work with talented set designers such as Angharad Bailey. Together with the great Tom Schierlitz she conceived a crisp and graphic story that brought a strong sense of design in sharp contrast to the environmental images running throughout the rest of the magazine.