Welcome

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Hello and welcome to my blog. I post updates on my personal and commissioned work, and share links to projects I think are excellent. Thanks for reading and feel free to contact me with questions or comments. – Kristen

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UIS professor portrait for The Chronicle of Higher Education

Dr. Lynn Fisher, associate professor of Sociology/Anthropology at the University of Illinois Springfield, is concerned about how she and other public university faculty will pay for retirement. Kristen Schmid for the Chronicle (Kristen Schmid)Dr. Lynn Fisher, associate professor of Sociology/Anthropology at the University of Illinois Springfield, is concerned about how she and other public university faculty will pay for retirement. Kristen Schmid for the Chronicle (Kristen Schmid)

Professional success doesn’t guarantee financial security. Dr. Lynn Fisher, associate professor of Sociology/Anthropology at the University of Illinois Springfield, is concerned about how she and other public university faculty will pay for retirement. I photographed Fisher, who is also chair of the UIS Campus Senate, for an article on associate professor pay in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

Posted in Editorial, Education, Portraits Tagged , , , , , |

“Flying Objects” and a surefire interview question

Both of my sons, then ages two and five, stop mid-hike to dig in the dirt at Lincoln Memorial Gardens in Springfield, Ill. (Kristen Schmid)My sons, ages five and two, explore Lake Springfield near Lincoln Memorial Garden. (Kristen Schmid)My older son, then five, helps his younger brother, then two, out to the edge of Lake Springfield in Illinois. (Kristen Schmid / Millennium Images UK)

“What did you think this was going to be like before you started, and then what was it really like?” is Noah Adams’ fallback interview question, according to “This American Life’s” comic book “How to Make Radio.” The question is supposed to evoke two stories and a lesson. In re-reading the essay below, I realized that this rule held true for me. “Flying Objects” is about wanting to be a mom, and what it is actually like to be a mom.

Now my babies are growing up. My freelance photography business is ten years old, and both of my sons will be in school in the fall.

Flying Objects

In 2002, I photographed a mother and son decorating a pumpkin at a local fall festival. For the first time, I wanted to be the mom instead of the journalist. Six years later, I got my chance.

It was sweatier and more stressful than I imagined.

When my then two-year-old son and I arrived at the festival, I immediately had to visit the port-a-potty since I was pregnant with his little brother. I narrowly kept him from opening the door and exiting. After that I thought I could relax. I took him to the hiking trails, envisioning us happily walking through nature.

I failed to account for the cigarette butt can, the busy road, the machinery shed, the steep embankment, and the possible poison oak, all more attractive than the open grassy areas. There were three paths in the forest, but none were less traveled enough for my son. He repeatedly tried to run off course down to the rocky stream, with me in literal hot pursuit.

This anecdote should end with some morsels of parenting redemption, a few cute moments in the “and that made it all worthwhile vein” — maybe the skinny spider we watched, or the fighting squirrels, or the joy of sharing the woods’ cool peace with my son. Those things all happened. But after our outing he refused to nap. He yelled from his room, in bed early for beaning me with his shoe as I drove.

What I didn’t know before I became a parent is how badly things could go, and how often.

I’m still glad we went.

I’m still glad I’m a mom.

Now that my second son is two, I realize that my older son was just being a toddler. And that some kids are easier than others. Because three and a half years later, at the same location, the struggle was still with him, and not his little brother.

It should have been fun: a pancake breakfast, a walk in the woods. I expected smiles and exuberance from my energetic boys. Instead, while his little brother happily trotted along a mulch path, my older son threw himself down with sad fury, throwing an extended red-faced screaming tantrum because he inexplicably wanted to go home.

After some time, we managed to move forward, and both boys ran gleefully along the trails. The morning was magical, even better than I hoped. The air was fresh and cool, the sky and lake a beautiful misty gray. The combination of rocks, sticks and water thrilled the boys.

At one point my older son asked me to carry his sweatshirt, and I told him to tie it around his waist. He looked at me very directly and I took a photograph, later wondering if his expression was irritation with me for not doing as he asked.

Reality started to creep back in on the drive home. He threw a peanut at my head from the back seat.

By the end of the day, fatigue replaced my morning confidence. My younger son gleefully hit me in the face with a flashlight as I read a story. That’s when my focus shifted to How Many More Minutes Before Daddy Comes Home. Tears and chaos double every 20 minutes after 5pm, like food poisoning bacteria.

Sometimes kids’ bad behavior is just something to be endured, dealt with, and forgotten, like the exuberant flashlight whack. Sometimes there is more to it. Later that week I found out what my older son already knew. Things were going badly at school, and had been for some time. I saw new meaning behind his strange tantrum, and his facial expression in my photograph.

The incident reminded me of my 19th birthday. I went out to dinner with my parents. We went to my favorite restaurant. I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t fun, why no one was laughing, why everyone seemed quiet. Soon after, they separated.

When I met with my son’s teacher, it was the first time I realized that I didn’t know everything about his world. Before he attended school, he had his private imagination, but now real things were happening, with real people, and I wasn’t there.

As a parent I am forced to realize, again and again, how little real control I have over the choices of another person.

As an almost-forty-year-old, I have to concede that careful planning and sheer force of will are not enough to control my future. I expected to have a husband with thighs bigger than mine, a life in San Francisco and children whose perfect behavior testified to my superior parenting. I am married to a thin man in the Midwest, raising boys that one grandma calls “pistols” and the other grandma calls “busy.”

Even when you get what you want, it is different than you expect. I thought parenting would be about physical and emotional caretaking. I pictured giving baths, making meals, reading stories and helping with homework. I discovered that it was also about dealing with the complex thoughts and feelings of people different from me. My sons are young children and I have authority over them, but they are also unique individuals, complete people in their own right.

The reality of being a mother is so much harder, and so much better, than I imagined. The blows to the head, literal and metaphorical, can’t erase the beauty, or the memory, of two boys running for sheer joy, delighting in being outside, and in being brothers.

Galleries where photos above appear: The Bubble, Domestic Life: Portrait collection and Brothers collection

This American Life/ Make Radio

Posted in Domestic Life, Portraits, The Bubble, Words and Pictures Tagged , , , , , , , |

Truth and Beauty: Matthew Avignone

Sometimes it seems like photographs are either cats or dogs. The first are smart, slick, cold and sometimes mean. The second are warm, kind, simple and less cerebral. As a photographer I hope for the best of both worlds – intelligence and complexity but with love and empathy.

I think that Matthew Avignone does this difficult balancing act well in his project “Stranger than Family.” His images of his family have an art photography aesthetic. They are not condescending or sentimental but truthful and loving. The quiet pictures show regular family moments, which is a statement in and of itself, because Avignone’s parents adopted him and his four siblings from India and South Korea. There is something very powerful about the way Avignone shows these former strangers as a typical family: “Nick After Shower,” “Dad and the Boys” and my favorite, “Mom, Aldi ($67.58).” As a photographer what you choose to place in the frame and make important says a lot about what you value and who you are. I love that Avignone made a 24” x 24” print of an image of his mother after a shopping trip to the discount grocery store Aldi. Standing in the parking lot with her hair windblown, toilet paper in the bottom of the cart, she is an ordinary hero seen through the perceptive eyes of a loving son.

“Stranger than Family” on Avignone’s website and as part of the Catherine Edelman Gallery’s Chicago Project

 

Posted in Truth and Beauty

Go Red For Women/American Heart Association

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It may not be romantic to tell loved ones about the most deadly disease for women — greater than all forms of cancer combined — but it is caring. February 7, 2014 is the 10th annual Go Red For Women Day, an American Heart Association event created after years of male-focused research and treatment left women unaware of their risk. I photographed Illinois legislators at the Statehouse last week as part of the AHA’s Go Red campaign.

Click here to find out more about the event, here to take the Go Red Heart Checkup and here to find out more about the American Heart Association.

Posted in Advocacy, Health, Politics Tagged , , , , |

Polite Conversation

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Our second son, 13 months old, takes an impromptu nap on my husband.

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As a kid I remember sitting across the dinner table from my mom as she held my little sister in her lap. She said mournfully that Suzanne (who I recall, perhaps unfairly, as triumphantly smirking) was her baby, and that once she turned five she wouldn’t be a baby anymore. Luckily for me, even though my younger son will be five this spring, his face is still babyish and round. I know that someday I won’t be able to kiss his soft cheek and get an instant hit of oxytocin. When do I have to stop? When he’s 35?

The pictures above, from the Affection and Portraits galleries of my Domestic Life collection, and essay below are my mementos for when those days are gone for good.

Polite Conversation

A pregnant friend in her first trimester emailed that she slept all the way through last night – no potty breaks or snacks or hormonal awakenings. I am against mom hazing, and I didn’t have kids until my 30s, but my first instinct was to shoot back a know-it-all, “Hope you enjoyed it. Won’t ever happen again.”

I didn’t. And it will happen again, in a couple years, when her idea of a “full night” is very different. I congratulated her on a good night’s sleep. I joked about how I looked forward to getting more rest during daylight savings time … until I realized the kids couldn’t set their internal clocks an hour later.

My sarcastic response was immediate. The sweet truth is one that I hold close and don’t think of as fuel for conversation. It kills me that my five-month-old gets up so early every day. (I asked a physician’s assistant if we could do anything about his 5 a.m. wakeups, and she looked puzzled, saying, “Why, you want to get a little extra sleep?”) But his cheeks are so soft, and his warm baby body so squeezable, that it is worth it – and then some – every time. Each morning I am surprised again by what a special feeling it is, how happy it makes me, how lucky I am.

Somehow the good parts of being a mother stay silent in my heart.

This is what I should tell my pregnant friend. When Eli is tired, he burrows into me, with a nuzzling head and a squeaky voice. Most days I’m so exhausted I could cry. My eyes have newfound crows’ feet and permanent dark circles.

In the back of my mind is the bittersweet knowledge that it is all fleeting: my nursing, his willingness to cuddle, his roundness. I anticipate missing his baby-ness even as I hold him. I try to pay attention and not let it slip by. Did I smile enough? Did I hug enough? These emotions are so raw and personal that I don’t spit them out in quips.

I don’t say that most days I feel compelled to spank my older son, but somehow, through the grace of God, manage not to. Just as some truths are too saccharinely sweet to share, some are too dark.

A mutual friend told my husband that sometimes it was all she could do not to beat her two preschool boys on their beds at night. I burst into laughter when he told me. It was the dark humor of understanding. Parenting reveals new depths of love, and rage.

My postpartum brain has heightened sensitivity to both these big, intense emotions and the most basic mundane tasks. As I sit and nurse, I’m maddeningly aware of the items out of place, and out of reach, in the room around me. I am overwhelmed by the desire to neaten even as I hold my prayed-for miracle. I notice the messes obsessively until I’m done nursing. Then I immediately move on to other tasks until the next feeding, when I sit down and notice the same things still out of place.

I can never get showered and dried off and dressed before the baby cries. Each uninterrupted domestic chore or personal hygiene milestone feels like an indulgence and a triumph.

At times I honestly think that on my deathbed I really will wish I had spent more time at work or folding laundry.

I know that earthly distractions crowd transcendental moments. As Eli curls into me sweetly before his nap, I am hungry, I have to go to the bathroom, and I’m surrounded by dirty dishes and newspapers.

My older son fought sleep. When I rocked him as a new baby, after the twitching, squirming, hair pulling, writhing, flipping, fury and grousing would finally subside, and it was just the two of us in the quiet summer twilight, I felt a momentary thin spot between heaven and earth.

I think my love for my children has a painful twinge because it is bigger than I can express or convey to them without overwhelming them. My four-year-old’s toes and bruised shins are so precious it makes my heart hurt. They are so small, yet they are evidence of his busy growing boy-ness. The moment is disappearing, and the person I love is already becoming someone else.

I share mundane news and tips because they are not awkwardly personal. I would rather commiserate than gush.

My friend recently had her baby. What I told her: use one earplug so that you can block out enough sound to sleep, but still hear the baby.

She’ll find out the important stuff for herself.

 

Posted in Domestic Life, Words and Pictures Tagged , , , |

New York Times Portrait

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I photographed Dick Metcalf for a New York Times story “Banished for Questioning the Gospel of Guns” by Ravi Somaiya. Metcalf, a well-known gun journalist and gun advocate, was fired from Guns and Ammo magazine after he wrote a column saying that the Second Amendment supports gun regulation. He is shown at Pike Adams Sportsmen’s Alliance Park, a shooting range he co-founded on his family’s farm outside of Barry, Ill.

In an Op-Ed column for the Times, Joe Nocera said, “My guess is that Dick Metcalf always knew what he was in for — all the more reason writing his article took guts.”

The Times recently published an excellent multimedia project on Americans’ complicated relationship with guns, “Gun Country.”

 

Posted in Editorial, Portraits

Truth and Beauty: Elinor Carucci

I photographed my parents when I was in college, and then again in graduate school, and in the midst of that project I first saw Elinor Carucci’s work. She photographed her parents too, and I was amazed by the difference. I photographed my dad when he was across the room, with his arms folded; she took partially clothed self-portraits with her dad sitting next to her. She excels at intimate detail shots, taking a closeup of her mother’s back that shows clothing imprints, and her mom’s leg in one stocking.

In October 2013 Carucci, born in Jerusalem and now living in New York, published a new book, “Mother.” She continues to effectively, and bravely, visually amplify small domestic details and experiences. I thought about photographing my post-partum belly but didn’t have the nerve. Carucci does, and then some. I have a tongue-in-cheek list called “photos I would have taken if I could,” which includes trying to go to the bathroom while my then one-year-old attempts to get in my lap. I didn’t let him, and I never would have actually photographed it. Carucci does both.

Part of my interest in her work is that she does the same jobs, mothering and photography, so differently than me. But mostly I admire how she shows that daily life and family is worth paying attention to and photographing, and that those images can be art. I respect how authoritatively she speaks in her work, and how boldly and successfully she uses light and color, like in this beautiful portrait of her lips and her daughter’s eyes

The square American in me feels uncomfortable with the images of Carucci nude with her older children. But she offers a powerful and valuable visual insight into the maternal experience. Her photography deserves attention. It is enriching to see a topic I care about addressed from such a different perspective than mine. Her extreme closeness and use of strong light, such as in this photograph of her mother and daughter’s mouths, makes me see family in a new way.

 

 

Posted in Truth and Beauty Tagged , , , |

Winter Solstice

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One afternoon, six winters ago, I heard it was going to snow and decided I should take my then 18-month-old son to get boots. I had been reading Montessori books and decided that he should be able to walk from store to store himself rather than be cooped up in a stroller. Much later, when it was dark, dinnertime, and I was driving us home very slowly in the escalating storm, I cursed my optimistic idealism. I am a California transplant. The first snow of the year always made me feel scared and displaced. What was I doing here and how was I supposed to deal with this? During that ride, with my increasingly upset son in the backseat, I had the added feeling of being a parenting imposter. Who thought it would be a good idea to leave me in charge of a child?

A few hours later my son was in bed, and my husband was happily headed outside with a cigar and glass of whiskey. He wanted to savor the first snow. I was shocked at the idea, but came outside to take a look. It was a beautiful evening. The light bouncing off the snow gave everything a diffuse glow. I didn’t want to linger. But I did want to take pictures.

The combination of noticing, and wanting to look for, beauty in a cold and dark season led to a series of Winter Solstice diptychs. This year I decided to create fresh work for the series. Coincidentally, my first new photo came on the Winter Solstice itself, after an ice storm. Only later did I realize that the season’s first snow had come and gone, and that for the first time, I hadn’t been afraid.

Posted in Fine Art, Words and Pictures Tagged , , , , |

Brothers & Physicality

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I often have to ask myself, is my sons’ behavior actually bad, or just irritating? Are they truly misbehaving, or just embarrassing me? I’m at my parenting best when I can remember my own childhood, and how hilarious the same nonsensical joke repeated ad nauseam was. (P.S. to my brother Eric: pink ink you stink.) Unlike my husband, I never wrestled with siblings or friends as a kid. This can make it hard for me to gauge my sons’ physical interactions.

I’ve noticed that some of their best moments together are on the razor edge of going bad – times of fun, affection and togetherness that haven’t crossed the line into torment and upset. There is potential for these gentle situations to end in disaster, but they don’t, or at least not for a while.

These photos are in the Brothers gallery, part of my Domestic Life collection.

Posted in Domestic Life Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Photographing Family

I first started photographing my family when I was a junior in college. Many years later, I surprised myself but not my husband when I started to photograph him and our sons. Each of us has had to periodically recalibrate our feelings about my “Father to Son” project.

As a photographer who takes pictures of her family, I am careful in many ways. I don’t take pictures if someone doesn’t want to be photographed. I don’t post photos or text that I think would be upsetting or embarrassing. I don’t publish my kids’ last names. I try to be as honest and as fair as I can. For several years I was confident in my professional and personal choices.

Then, after a blog article about my “Father to Son” project, I had a small taste of how far and how fast images can travel on the Internet when the wheels of infinite reposting start to turn. My lack of control was unnerving. The web’s voracious need for content brought publishing offers. I worried I would exploit my family. I worried that ambition would cloud my judgment. Now that more people were looking at my photographs, previously hypothetical concerns were real.

Sometimes I feel like my picture-taking impulse is bad, or selfish. I can rationalize not taking pictures as being sensitive. I can also criticize myself as lazy for not making a photograph. Caution can be kindness, or just an excuse. I think of the parable of talents in Matthew’s gospel, where each servant is expected to invest what he has been given, even if it is only a small amount. Photography is what I have to offer. I believe in what I am trying to show: the importance and depth of family relationships.

Many years ago I spoke about my work, which included photos of my parents after their divorce. They were in the audience. Faced with the same situation today, I would not have invited them. Even though the photographs came from a place of love and pride for my family, I feel protective of them.

There is no escape from imposing on someone else. Even if I created photographs and writing that were just about me, I am still someone’s wife, daughter, friend, mother. I am a more careful driver now than I was 20 years ago, because I know that if I get hurt it would cause others pain and loss.

In the midst of the sudden requests and emails, it was wonderful to get a surprise visit from my mother-in-law. She had some sage advice: that I would probably make a mistake somewhere along the way, and that it would be okay. She also writes about her family. After an earlier discussion about the potential pitfalls of using your family as writing or photo material, she sent me a note with some thoughts I really appreciate:

“That impulse to observe and share is risky and uncomfortable, but I am also convinced that it is in community that we approach understanding more fully, and that requires not just listening, but also a willingness to ‘observe and comment’ – which is uncomfortable because it makes us so vulnerable.”

I thought of the risk inherent in work of creative value when I heard a Terry Gross interview with graphic artist and writer Allie Brosh. One of the topics Brosh covers is her severe depression. It was hard to listen when Gross pushed for details of Brosh’s suicide plan. But the specifics revealed how depressed Brosh had been, and how serious she was about killing herself. Had either woman stopped at politeness, her work would have been less powerful. I understand depression better now because of Brosh’s blog and Gross’ interview. If they were less skilled, the results could have been maudlin, tabloid material. Yet it is difficult to think of Brosh’s husband hearing the full story for the first time because of the interview.

I’m glad that people find the “Father to Son” project meaningful. I have been impressed and challenged by the thoughtful questions and comments about my pictures. Those words are good encouragement for me as I continue trying to visually distill the relationships and lives developing around me.

 

 

Posted in Domestic Life, Father to Son, The Bubble, Words and Pictures Tagged , , |

Truth and Beauty: Janet Cardiff

Janet Cardiff’s “The Forty Part Motet,” a reworked 16th century piece of music, is a gorgeous treat to hear, soaring and otherworldly. The sculptural sound piece is the first contemporary art to be shown at The Cloisters. Forty speakers are set up in an oval, each one broadcasting a different singer. Cardiff created her transcendent art with ordinary hard work. The Motet required a year of planning and a complicated recording process that she describes on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website:

“The recording took place in a hall on the grounds of the cathedral that was lined with blankets and curtains to create an acoustically “dead” sounding environment. During the recording session, the adult singers stood about five feet apart from one another in order to keep their voices separate, but the children were grouped together to sing the soprano parts of the composition. Each of the fifty-nine singers wore an individual high-quality lavaliere microphone with a special mount to ensure that the microphone was right in front of him or her. All fifty-nine cables were run from the singers to a mobile truck outside—in effect, the recording studio—where fifty-nine tracks were laid and then (mixing the sopranos together) reduced to forty.”

The Motet is a reminder of how much time and effort it takes to make something simple and beautiful.

Click here and scroll down to hear an audio excerpt

You can hear a “To the Best of Our Knowledge” interview with Janet Cardiff about the Motet and her other work here and a “Studio 360″ interview here

Click here for her website and to see installations of the Motet around the world

 

 

Posted in Truth and Beauty

Milestone Portrait

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Earlier this year I photographed my dad, a farmer. In the caption I wrote that at age 66, he had no plans to retire. Last week he told me he was ready to stop farming. He jokes that he may follow the pattern of a former employee, who retired and returned to work multiple times, on into his 80s. My dad is a man who wanted to go out “with his boots on,” and has gone to work at dark-thirty for as long as I can remember. I was shocked, but also happy for him when I heard how upbeat and certain he sounded. A new chapter and new possibilities: how exciting.

I’m not the only person realizing her parent’s retirement is a celebratory milestone. A former client asked me to photograph her parents in honor of their retirement. Photographers often get to photograph “firsts,” which is fun, but it was nice to make pictures about a new beginning founded on long-lasting commitment.

Congratulations.

Posted in Portraits

Truth and Beauty: Intro and Father Greg Boyle

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Photos by Ted Schurter, cake by David Vayo.

A friend will tell you happy birthday on Facebook, a really great friend will make a piñata for your shared 90th birthday — her 50th and your 40th. I first met Marie-Susanne Langille when I was a photo intern for her at The Herald in Jasper, Ind., and also her housemate. This situation could have led to disaster, but instead it led to a wonderful friendship.

One of the many things I like about Marie-Susanne is that in her Christmas cards she includes her favorite books and recipes from the year. They are always great. So, in the spirit of friendly recommendations, I’ll be posting “Truth and Beauty” links to projects I think are especially compelling.

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Father Greg Boyle/Homeboy Industries

“And you want people to recognize the truth of who they are, that they’re exactly what God had in mind when God made them.”

I’ve heard Father Boyle, founder/executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, which employs former gang members, on Fresh Air with Terry Gross in 2004 and 2010, and On Being with Krista Tippett in 2013. (Quotes above and below from On Being transcript.) He is funny, challenging, inspiring and a great storyteller:

“A story I tell in the book about a homie who was, on Christmas Day, I said, ‘What’d you do on Christmas?’ And he was an orphan and abandoned and abused by his parents and worked for me in our graffiti crew. I said, ‘What’d you do for Christmas?’ ‘Oh, just right here.’ I said, ‘Alone?’ And he said, ‘No, I invited six other guys from the graffiti crew who didn’t had no place to go,’ he said, ‘and they were all …’ He named them and they were enemies with each other.

I said, ‘What’d you do?’ He goes, ‘You’re not gonna believe it. I cooked a turkey.’ [laughter]. I said, ‘Well, how’d you prepare the turkey?’ He says, ‘Well, you know, ghetto style.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think I’m familiar with that recipe.’ He said, ‘Well, you rub it with a gang of butter and you squeeze two limones on it and you put salt and pepper, put it in the oven. Tasted proper,’ he said [laughter]. I said, ‘Wow. What else did you have besides turkey?’ ‘Well, that’s it, just turkey. Yeah, the seven of us, we just sat in the kitchen staring at the oven waiting for the turkey to be done. Did I mention it tasted proper?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you did.’

So what could be more sacred than seven orphans, enemies, rivals, sitting in a kitchen waiting for a turkey to be done?”

Homeboy’s motto: “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.” Click here to find out more, order food and donate money.

 

 

 

Posted in Truth and Beauty Tagged , , , , |

Agriculture

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The first farmer I ever photographed was my dad, in California. Once I thought I saw him at the Sacramento Airport, but it was just someone else dressed in the same northern California farmer uniform: button-down shirt, Wranglers, boots, freebie agribusiness hat and deep suntan. When I moved to the Midwest, I was surprised to see that some farmers wore overalls.

I was also surprised by the focus on certain crops. During an assignment at the University of Illinois, I asked each farmer in a group what he grew. They all told me, a bit puzzled, “corn and beans.”

Some of my favorite ag discoveries since then are the immense Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill., photographed for Bayer CropScience, and the amazing AgrAbility accessibility program, photographed for Progressive Farmer Magazine.

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Posted in Agriculture, Business, Corporate, Editorial, Portraits Tagged |