Brent Seabrook: The Vermont Farmwork Project

Exhibition: September 1 – October 1, 2017
Reception: Friday, Sept 1, 5:30 to 8:30pm

The primary focus of Seabrook’s current photographic work is The Vermont Farm Work Project. The project is an ongoing photographic exploration of farm work, farm workers and the work place on Vermont farms. Whether photographing goats in the milking parlor or giant brush piles of pruned apple wood, “my aim is to draw the eye into the image, while provoking the mind to ponder its significance.”

John Szarckowski, in the introduction to his book, Mirrors and Windows, uses the terms romanticism and realism as the endpoints on the continuum describing the essence of a photograph. Windows equate to realism. We are, as it were, looking through a window at the subject, and the subject is easily defined. Mirrors, at the opposite end of the spectrum, are the romantic vision where “the meanings of the world are dependent on our own understandings.” All photographs exist somewhere on this continuum.

The Vermont Farm Work Project is Seabrook’s way of showing not just the farm or the farm animal or the farm worker. His goal is to make a picture that shows you both an easily recognizable activity, scene or object and offers a psychological depth as to the relationship between the subject and its setting. For example, the image Stepping into space, Darren prunes apple trees, March shows us a pruner at work.  The dense pattern of overlapping tree branches produces a tangled, impenetrable pattern that gives the viewer a sense of what it must feel like to be that pruner in the tree. To the experienced pruner, of course, the branches appear much more orderly. But the sense of what it’s like working, and sometimes wrestling, your way through 30 – 60 trees a day becomes tangible.

I did not know it at the time, but The Vermont Farm Work Project actually began more than 40 years ago.

After graduating from Middlebury College in 1971 with a major in studio art, Seabrook worked in a Vermont orchard for the apple harvest. He began taking photographs with the Rollei B35 camera. Because of its very small size, he kept the camera with him during the workday and photographed many aspects of the harvest process. These images were intended, at the time, as reference material for future paintings and prints. Gradually, as he saw the potential for photography to better tell the story he wanted than paintings or prints, he began to make photographs as the final product.

Brent Seabrook grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. His family had a camp in a rural area with many farms. Growing up they spent most of the summers and many weekends at the camp working on various projects. He remembers being fascinated by the large fields of corn and soybeans planted in perfectly straight rows that flashed like cards in a deck as they drove past them, and the brightly colored farm equipment, each machine with a specific function. In the summer, they helped a neighboring farmer make hay: hot, hard and itchy work. Brent thought how special this experience was, something his friends in the city knew nothing about. Now, more than 50 years later, he’s using photography to bring farm work within the public’s eye.


Generous support for this exhibition provided by: