Two words come to mind when I look at this field: bounty and beauty. Even more than the hay shocks, the cultivated ground on which they stand evokes in me a sense of the skin of the earth—how thin it is and how marvelous that, year after year, seeds dropped into it rise in such a short period of time to provide the nutrients we need to survive. It seems like a miracle—until I remember that it’s part of the chain of interconnections that evolved to make life sustainable and more abundant.
Images like this also remind me to appreciate that we in the technologically developed nations of the world enjoy regular and bountiful harvests. It’s not something to take for granted when, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 870 million people (of the 7.1 billion people in the world—one in eight) suffered from chronic undernourishment between 2010 and 2011. More recently that number dropped to 843 million, but it’s still a sobering reality.
I made this photograph in Amish country with a 4×5 view camera. As I was standing close to the roadside with my head under a dark cloth to adjust the composition on the ground glass, I heard a horse and buggy approaching. Not wanting to get my tripod bumped or frighten the horse, I stepped aside and waved to the driver. Surprisingly, he stopped. “You like that field do you?” said the long-bearded farmer wearing a wide-rimmed black hat.
“I do,” I replied. “These fields are amazing. May I ask what those stacks are called?”
“Shocks,” he said. “Hay shocks. Do you know why we arrange them like that?” I shook my head. “It’s a lot more work to do it that way, and it takes longer than rolling. Either way, the bulk of the hay stays dry. But we do it because it’s beautiful.”
That little but precious comment took root in my soul that day as both an inspiration and an injunction to, as much as possible, make beauty an essential component of all my creations. I don’t always succeed, but the intention was firmly planted.
Beauty is finally our surest indication of whether what we do is in the most creative direction for nature as a whole.
About This Image
Title: Hay Shocks
Theme: Bounty And Beauty
File #: 602
July 14, 1990
In the middle of Ohio there are miles and miles of rolling hills inhabited by the Amish. I photograph there often and in every kind of weather. The fields change so much from season to season. The same spot where I set up my tripod years before, always has something new to show me. Also, the houses, barns and schoolhouses provide exceptional forms and textures, particularly when the light is low.
While I never photograph the Amish without asking permission, I often have them in the frame, rendering them simply as “people,” from a distance too far away to recognize their faces. And what a treat it is to photograph relatively close to home where there are far fewer fences and wires and traffic.
Initially, this field caught my attention because the long row of shocks looked so much like a row of Ewoks (Star War characters) marching in procession. By increasing the print contrast and brightening the highlights, I began to see them more as hooded monks. And that contributed to a more contemplative sensibility. A large print has hung in our living room for many years now. And I never tire of it’s subtle but profound reminders—to appreciate the bounty we have and to make beauty an integral part of everyday living.