Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – 27 July 2018

This week Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up features an interview with American photographer Anna Mia Davidson about her long term project on sustainable farming. A good news story well worth telling.

Feature: Anna Mia Davidson

Human Nature: Sustainable Farming in the Pacific Northwest


I met American photographer Anna Mia Davidson in New York last year when I was in the US researching for my PhD. I always marvel at how the universe puts me in touch with likeminded people. When Davidson was at college she created her own major, “Facilitating and Mediating Social Change.” My PhD is on photography as social change. Once again serendipity was at work.

Davidson’s book, Human Nature: Sustainable Farming in the Pacific Northwest, immediately resonated with me. I spent more than a decade living on five acres in regional Victoria. We had an impressive veggie garden, Angora goats to help keep the grass in check, calves from next door’s farm who loved pruning my roses, paddock roaming chickens and my beloved golden retriever who kept an eye on everyone in that rambunctious, overgrown puppy way that retrievers have.

Now living back in inner urban Melbourne, which I love, occasionally I find myself longing for a patch of dirt, but that’s not part of my current journey. So I seek out organic produce. Luckily I’ve found a local store that brings in fruits and veggies direct from the farms in Gippsland. Quirky, odd shaped zucchini and pumpkins, silverbeet that sometimes has a tiny snail nestled in its folds, veggies that are in season, picked hours before I buy them, still dusted with that morning’s dew or crusted in earth.

There are many positive things that automated production has achieved, but food factories, feedlots, GMO and the like are not sustainable for the planet, and they’re not good for our health and overall wellbeing.

Sebastiaõ Salgado, celebrated as a photographer and also an environmentalist, writes in the book that Davidson’s portraits “tell a far broader story. They remind us that by respecting animals, plants, and the very soil of the earth, we are contributing to our own survival”.

We can’t all live off the grid, or grow our own produce. But we can think consciously about our choices, what we consume and the way we consume it and Davidson’s book reminds us of the choices we make.

Elias and John feed freshly foraged comfrey plants to the pigs, Nature’s Last Stand, Fall City
Kao Lee Cha and Grandson Kong Lor in Flower Field, Kao Lee’s Gardens, Fall City
Oliva with Chicken, Frog Song Farm, Fir Island

Chef Matt Dillon (not the actor) writes, “Environmental stewardship, health of our bodies, health of our communities, diversity, and economic growth are all things we gain by participating in our local agricultural community.” Seeking out your local farmers’ market is a good place to start.

I asked Davidson to elucidate on her motivation for this project and also why she chose to publish a book. With so much chatter in the digital space about the benefits of publishing online, I was curious to know her thoughts for putting ink on paper. Here’s what she told me:

PJ Now: What was your objective with this story? 

AMD: In 2011 Mark Bittman of the New York Times wrote something to the effect (I’m paraphrasing) that American’s two-soda-a-day addiction and factory farming practices will ultimately culminate in America going to hell in a hand basket with our intense trajectory towards environmental and health degradation.

As I read those words I was sitting with my organic farmer husband on our off-the-grid yurt deck overlooking 27 acres of sustainable farmland we farmed, eating raw veggies straight from the field. I also was immersed in the sustainable farming movement, which incorporates a diverse group of multi generational, ethnically diverse individuals who are passionate and committed to a vision and way of life.

It was at that moment that I was inspired to document photographically the beauty and power of the community I was part of to offer a visual alternative and possible solution to the downward trajectory Bittman described.

I understood the power of photography as a tool for social change and thought if I could show the positive sustainable farming movement as a country and as a collective world, we could move towards that sustainability model and start to create policy that would better support small family sustainable farms.

PJ Now: What motivated you to produce this body of work as a book? 

AMD: Ultimately making a book felt like the best way to pay homage and respect to the subject matter. Books give a formality and voice to a subject like no other platform truly can. I felt this body of work would have the greatest chance of being seen by a wider audience if it had the platform of formality that a book form offers. A book is something that can be sent to policy makers, given to libraries, and can sit on mainstream family coffee tables.

PJ Now: Do you think books are still an important conduit as opposed to creating an Instagram feed or a Facebook page for the project, for example?

I believe books are still a very important conduit. Books have a unique feel… as an art object, the tactile nature of paper, the weight of a bound object in hand. Used together with Social Media, books have the power to reach a large global audience in a way social media alone cannot.

Photography has always been a great tool for social change. In book form photography takes that message and creates a powerful historical document to be used not only today but also for later generations.

Human Nature: Sustainable Farming in the Pacific Northwest by Anna Mia Davidson

With essays by: Sebastiaõ Salgado, chef Matt Dillon and Dr. Marcia Ostrom

Published by: Minor Matters Books

All images (C) Anna Mia Davidson


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