Four years ago, photographer Paul Mobley needed to step off the fast track. “I had had six or seven years of really gut-grinding commercial work,” Mobley says.
“I told my agent I needed a break and was going to go up north and spend the summer and not take my camera.”
Leisurely mornings in Glen Arbor, Mich., began at Coffee Roasters where, Mobley says, “There was just normal conversation, nobody bragging.”
Day after day, he listened to the small talk of local farmers until one day he said, “I’d love to take your portrait; do you mind?”
Violating his no-camera vow, he began going from farmer to farmer, taking pictures. Shooting purely for pleasure grew into a book project that, over the course of more than three years, took Mobley to 37 states, where he covered more than 100,000 miles and took about 35,000 pictures. The result is a coffee-table book, American Farmer: The Heart of Our Country, photographs by Paul Mobley, text by Katrina Fried (Welcome Books, $50).
The 264-page large-format book includes a preface by Today Show personality Willard Scott, whose family has included a farmer in every generation since — and before — 1759.
Scott writes of spending summers on his grandfather’s farm in Maryland where, he says, “I came to know a whole different world from what I’d experienced living in the city.”
By milking cows and delivering milk to the local Sealtest Dairy pickup station, Scott says he felt he was playing a small but important part in feeding America.
Among the farmers depicted in more than 150 images are many who work the land in Michigan, Mobley’s home state.
(Mobley grew up in Grosse Pointe Shores, graduated from Grosse Pointe North High School and the College for Creative Studies. He, his wife, and daughters now divide their time between Michigan and New York City.)
Next month, on Oct. 12, he’ll be in his hometown autographing his book at the final Birmingham Farmers Market of the season.
Though he’s still doing his commercial work, Mobley says the time he spent photographing the farmers was, “almost like I was in a fantasy, to be in that way of life, the way it used to be.
“People seemed happier, kinder, less rushed.”