On a recent afternoon at Durham’s Piedmont restaurant, I noticed a towering version of a familiar face. George O’Neal, the somewhat proverbial young farmer of Lil’ Farm, was suspended from the ceiling in the form of a powerful and serious 16-inch-by-24-inch rectangular photograph.
His image is part of a row of 15 portraits using local farmers and farmhands as the subjects. The collection is titled BURLAP. Portraits of Piedmont Farmers, the latest exhibit by Raleigh photographer Raymond Goodman. Bull City Arts Collaborative at 401-B1 Foster St. opens the exhibit on Nov. 12, extending the display to the back wall of the farm-to-fork restaurant, the Piedmont, next door.
I met Goodman as he snapped photographs this weekend at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference, held this year in Durham. He spent eight weeks photographing at a dozen North Carolina farms, including less traditional organic projects like Raleigh urban farm Part & Parcel and the Refugee Agricultural Project of Carrboro. He chose to hang a sheet of burlap behind the subjects, creating a glowing, Monet-like veil between them and the fields in which they live and work. This technique, combined with the enormous portrait size, urges the locavore-slash-foodie to view a statuesque version of the farmer free from the confines of their work as farmers and vendors.
“I wanted to raise the profile of the farmer,” Goodman told me. “It’s to celebrate the farmer—not the land, not the toil, not the sweat, none of the other stuff. To give a little distance between the field, the farm stand, all those other things. The work I’m most proud of is about other people, and who they are and what they mean to me. There’s a power there. By isolating them in the portrait, you end up with the truth, the reality.”
BURLAP. is curated by Dave Wofford of Horse and Buggy Press. The 12 16-inch-by-24-inch and three 24-inch-by-36-inch portraits are set in locally sourced Ambrosia maple frames designed by William H. Dodge and fabricated by Marc E. Smith.
BCAC hosts an opening reception on Friday, Nov. 18, from 6 to 9 p.m. Additional viewing hours will be during the Durham Artwalk on Saturday, Nov. 19, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 20, from 1 to 5 p.m. The exhibit runs through Jan. 28. Visit www.bullcityarts.org for a full schedule and for the artist’s statement.