DeKALB – What began as a brief hiatus from a competitive, stressful career turned into a 100,000-mile journey resulting in a pictorial tribute to the American farmer.
Paul Mobley, renowned photographer of the coffee-table book, “American Farmer: The Heart of Our Country,” will present some of the stories behind the photos at a Thursday presentation at Faranda’s Banquet Hall, 302 Grove St., DeKalb. The evening will begin with a social hour from 6 to 7 p.m., followed by Mobley’s presentation from 7 to 8 p.m. and a meet and greet and book signing to end the evening.
Mobley’s visit to DeKalb is being presented by Resource Bank. Although there is no charge to attend, seating is limited. To reserve a seat, contact Resource Bank’s marketing director Mary Keys at marketing@ResourceBank.com or call 815-748-1448.
“Resource is a community bank with an agriculture base,” Keys said. “We wanted to do something to support the ag community different from an educational seminar.”
Mobley said he grew up in Detroit and went to art school in New York City – and had absolutely no background in agriculture.
“The basis of my presentation is simple: Here’s this city guy who stumbles onto the farm,” Mobley said.
After working as a photographer, what he calls a grueling, stressful business, Mobley said he was burned out.
“I told my agent I needed a break, to recharge my batteries. I told her I was taking the summer off.
“She asked if I was sure. Taking that much time off is a risky business. The train keeps moving, whether you’re on it or not,” Mobley said.
He said his intention was to spend the summer at his cabin in Michigan and not shoot a single photograph. Two weeks into his vacation, a visit to a local coffee shop changed that in an instant.
“There were four farmers sitting there at a table talking and I thought, ‘I’ve got to photograph those faces,” Mobley said.
Before he left Michigan, he had photographed every farmer in the county.
“I got their faces, their stories, lessons about life. This was a life I had never known existed,” Mobley said.
He returned to New York with his photos and showed them to a few people who suggested he do a book about farmers. He said he met with three different publishers and all three offered him a contract.
He chose one and set out photograph more farmers, tell more stories.
“I was told, ‘you have 30 farmers here, we need 300 if we’re going to make something of this.”
With the charge to shoot in 20 states, Mobley hit 37, traveled about 100,000 miles and returned with 50,000 pictures of 300 families.
“To say this project changed my life is an understatement,” Mobley said.
“No matter what state I was in, the farmers I met were kind and gracious. In Tennessee, one family I photographed had balloons on the mailbox and threw a party for me. In Nebraska, I was concerned that I was running low on gas and didn’t know how far it was to the next gas station. The farmer I was visiting asked what was wrong and I told him. He filled my tank before sending me on my way.
“They invited me into their homes, shared their stories, shared meals and often offered me a bed to sleep in. They had just met me. Who does that?”
Mobley said no matter where he traveled, he found farm families to be kind, warm and courteous.
“To me, it was a lesson in basic human compassion.”