Where Are the Fields?
It’s the fields I always ask to go to. Of course, I also have other questions when I am photographing people and families in the Global South, like what would you be doing today if I were not here? Where do you go to collect water? When do you start to cook dinner? Where do you keep your animals? However, the one I am always hopeful works out is where are your fields, are they far, can we walk there? What crops do you have?
I ask about the fields because that is where the food is grown and food is life, food is culture, food is work, and these things translate well to a photograph.
In a perfect world of perfect planning, I am able to visit a family at some point previous to the time I will be photographing them. Be it rural Africa or a tiny town in South Asia, I talk with the family and walk around their home and see where they cook, I ask them about their schedule and what time they start cooking breakfast, lunch or dinner, I chat with them about what they think I should photograph and what they think is important for me to see, and of course I ask them questions that are relevant to the story I am trying to tell.
Then I ask about the fields.
Are they close-by? If they are, I ask them to take me there. I take a few images and test shots and figure out where the light will come from for the time I want to shoot. Then I try to create a schedule that has me arriving really early in the morning or late in the day to get good light. This initial visit helps me get a lay of the land, but it also helps everyone get comfortable with each other. It gives me time to connect with the subject and allows them to get used to me and my camera.
Back to Canada
Interestingly, when I was no longer able to travel to the Global South due to COVID-19, my first major story took me back to the fields. Canadian fields, with much different tools and more land, but fields nonetheless. I went through a similar set of questions and planned in a similar fashion. But once I got out to the fields and started shooting the similarities between Africa and Canada came not as much through the visuals as they did through the personalities of the farmers.
I noticed that farmers across continents are more the same than they are different.
In farmers I see people who are connected to the land, who are in tune with the weather, the climate and the seasons. I notice their attention to detail as they walk through their crops and inspect by touch, tase and smell to see what stage they are at in their growth. I see their brain spinning as they work through issues with bugs, critters, soil and water. Farmers understand the balance of nature and how it can affect our food security, nutrition and health not just for a single family but for an entire population.
When I see Brian, who runs Lennox Farm with his wife Jeanette, walking through his fields and lifting a plant of beans to pick off a few aphids that he crushes between his fingers, I see awareness. When I see Sophia, a farmer in Tanzania, gently remove dirt from around a potato and then replace it when she notices it isn’t ready, I see patience. When I see Vincent, a farmer in central Kenya, sifting through his crop of local greens and carefully picking only the leaves that are ready, I see knowledge.
My love of photographing on farms spans continents. I have learned a lot of important lessons about our food and the people who work the land, but maybe more important are the life lessons in resourcefulness, ingenuity, patience and attention to detail that I unintentionally gained while spending time in the fields.