Disfarmer: the Vintage Prints.
Photographs by Mike Disfarmer. Texts by Edwynn Houk, Gerd Sander, Richard B. Woodward, Michael P. Mattis
Powerhouse Books, New York, 2005. 234 pp., 157 duotone illustrations, 7.5x9.75".
By now his story is well known: born Mike Meyer in 1884, Disfarmer legally changed his name to declare what he wasn't, and spent his career as the studio photographer of Heber Springs, Arkansas, and died completely alone and unknown in 1959. Glass plate negatives taken from his studio after his death introduced him to the world.
Disfarmer presents the vintage prints for the first time. They were located during a two-year research project in which a team "scoured every family album in every home along every dirt road in Claburne County, Arkansas." Richard Woodward, in his essay at the end of the book, recounts what we know about the little-known Disfarmer, sketches the world in which he worked and comments helpfully on the portraits themselves. The pride, vulnerability and humanity of Disfarmer's subjects at mid-century in middle America shine through their humble circumstances during the Great Depression and World War II. Made in a more innocent era than ours, the photographs suggest that the barrier between photographer and subject was possibly less, but that doesn't diminish the accomplishment of Disfarmer's highly refined seeing. His pictures are tender and touching. He manages that rare feat of forever shaping our image of a time and place.
Disfarmer is a triumph of book making. The earnest front and back cover portraits, with bold type only on the spine, is pure magic. The format, the simplicity of design, pacing of the pictures, quality of paper and printing-all show a respect for the photographs and preserve their delicacy and power. LEAH BENDAVID-VAL
To read the full review of this title please see the Fall 2006 issue of the booklist.
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