Artist Spotlight focuses on interesting artists, upcoming exhibitions, and articles about art and those who love it or create it.

Discover new ways to stretch your imagination, be introduced to new artists, their exhibits, and books to read about them. Expect to excite your mind. Comments are very welcome! -- Rosemary Carstens

Monday, November 3, 2008

Paul Mobley captures life in between the coasts . . . American Life

As some of you may know, in 2003, I set out to follow a dream of traveling solo from Longmont, Colorado, to the West Coast, by motorcycle. I had visions of dipping my road-worn boots in the Pacific Ocean and feeling a strong sense of accomplishment. I ended up riding 3,800 miles through 8 states, not only from Colorado to the Pacific Ocean in northern California, but up through Oregon and across the river to Washington State before turning back east. I was gone 3 weeks and it was wonderful. Sure, there were times when I wondered what the heck I was doing so far from home all alone, especially when my only company on the highway was the wind (doing its best to blow me down) and the occasional semi roaring past and shaking me to my toes with its jet stream. But the very best thing of all, next to waking up each morning and taking off for a day of unknown adventure, no computers, cell phones, or telephones, was all the small towns, independent coffee shops, and local people I saw along the way.

We get so much scary news all the time; this administration has cultivated an atmosphere of fear. What I saw out there across the country renewed my belief that most folks are just like us, concerned with getting a day’s work done, caring for family, doing right by those around them. Every other person isn’t a serial killer, a con man, a doper, or a rapist, contrary to the nightly news and the majority of prime time TV programs. I especially loved the faces, the weather-worn faces of old farmers, waitresses, young people, parents—of all sizes, ages, and colors. These were faces of people I grew up with, who had seen rural life as I’d seen it. I felt comfortable and never felt anything but welcome. It seems that Paul Mobley saw and experienced the same thing.

About a year after my trip, PAUL MOBLEY was in a coffee shop in rural northern Michigan when the idea came to him as he looked around and saw all these weathered, salt-of-the-earth faces: He knew he had to photograph them. That idea took him on a 100,000 mile trip down back roads, small towns, farmland, and prairie in 35 states. From more than 32,000 photographs, he chose 300 that appear in his new book, American Farmer: The Heart of Our Country (http://www.welcomebooks.com/). His work is so beautiful, his subjects so diverse, so representative of the faces of America today. I thought you might like to know about him and his work. You can see more by visiting his website at http://www.paulmobleystudio.com/ .
-- Rosemary Carstens


Verna Wilder said...

I went to Mobley's site and browsed the photos - wow! Thanks for posting about his book. I still remember the waitress I met in a cafe in Laramie 25 years ago. Her name was Dot, she was in her 50s or 60s, wore a blond ponytail and a button that read "Jesus is the reason for the season." She looked so familiar to me, and I asked her where else she had worked, thinking maybe I had seen her in Colorado. "Well," she said, "I lived in Cheyenne for awhile." No, she was not a traveler, but she's been in my thoughts for many years and is the model for a waitress who showed up in several of my short stories.

ClaireWalter said...

My "Mobley moments" were reading William Least Heat Moon's "Blue Highways." Farm country and more.

Laurel Kallenbach said...

When I was younger, I hated those little dinky towns along the highway and was always in a hurry to get out of "hick-ville" to a more scenic and exciting destination. Now it's sad that so many little villages across the country (especially those along the interstates) have been invaded by McDonalds, Dairy Queens and KFCs. The old "quaint" towns are an endangered species. Too bad I didn't appreciate them more in my youth!

Mary Golden said...

Rosemary, I just sent the URLs for your excellent blogs to my brother Lowell Downey and his wife Janna Waldinger, who are amazing artists and photographers in Napa, California: www.artclarity.com.

What a gorgeous book about farmers as photographed by Paul Mobley. It's interesting to see the high-end tools of Madison Avenue used in this way--the careful staging, the sharpening of focus, the ironic positioning of subjects and objects, the distortion of perspective and the intensification of color.

I must say, however, that Dorothea Lange's style touches me more. From what I can see online, I feel like I am looking through the lens of an outsider at an alien community. I anticipate that the text by Katrina Fried may provide a more intimate portrait of the subjects and their way of life. Her work may follow in the steps of Studs Terkel, William Least Heat Moon, Tillie Olsen and Charles Kuralt.

In reading through the Mobley site, I was surprised that the photographer gave Fried such short shrift. She is barely mentioned and her name does not appear on the cover, though she shows up as author on Amazon.

There's a story in how the contribution of either a writer or an illustrator can be downplayed, as well as in how a writer may carve a comfortable niche as an editor/second banana that may produce more reliable income than she might earn independently. Fried is apparently an editor/project developer at the company that published Mobley's book and may have interviewed the subjects after the photographer had done his work.

A problem with the book, in my opinion, is that it apparently focuses primarily on men as farmers. My parents were the first generation off the farm and I have spent much time on family farms, including pitching in as an unhired hand when needed. Generally, everyone who lives on anything but a hobby farm is a farmer: husband, wife and children. Each role is crucial, each person is knowledgeable about farming, and each suffers when things go wrong.

Mary Golden