This body of images was inspired by and responsive to the life of an Alabama farmer in Cullman County. The photographic subject is Joe Culpepper, a cattle farmer who lives there. For seven years I photographed Mr. Culpepper, with whom I attended high school, in an attempt to document the face of the contemporary farmer in Alabama.
In visiting the Culpepper Farm, I discovered a scene that is increasingly tied into the technological world – Joe’s Grateful Dead sticker in the corner of his tractor cap, the high-tension wires that stretch over his land, the subdivision development that is slowly creeping to the edges of the farm.
Here, this encroachment is both positive and negative: positive in that the life of the farmer is ever more assisted and ever less isolated, and negative in that the agricultural life which formed the core of Cullman County culture – it was once the agricultural capital of Alabama – will surely disappear, probably before Joe’s generation has passed. Joe is aware of this, and speaks of the surety with a mixture of sadness and welcome.
Portrait of An Alabama Farm seeks to create a document – especially for future generations who may never experience a real farm – of a life that is found in pieces, a story that is written in light and, encroached upon by other lights, is fading.
Robert A. Schaefer, Jr., began learning about the medium while he was studying Architecture at Auburn University in Alabama, his home state, and continued to do so at the Technische Universitaet of Munich, Germany. He exhibited at the Amerika Hauses in Munich, Hamburg, Hannover and Frankfurt, as well as Kulturhaus in Graz, Austria, and the City Museum of Munich among others before moving to New York City in 1981 (where he still lives and works). In 1999 – 2000 he had a 25-year retrospective at the Huntsville Museum of Art in Alabama. Curator Peter Baldaia described the city images in the exhibition catalogue as “formal abstractions of the urban landscape.” Lyle Rexer, in his book Photography’s Antiquarian Avant-garde (published by Abrams in 2002), says, “The work of former architect Robert Schaefer marries the process to a Machine Age aesthetic of urban geometrics and industrial technologies.” In November 2010, Schaefer had exhibitions at the Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan in Delhi and the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh of images he took in India in 2009 and printed with the cyanotype process. Elizabeth Rogers, who also initially conceived the Architectural Blue exhibitions, also curated them and edited the catalogue produced for both exhibitions. Schaefer spent the entire month of June 2013 in Can Serrat, a residency outside Barcelona, Spain, producing cyanotypes of photographs taken in Barcelona and the surrounding area. He teaches photography at New York University and the Center for Alternative Photography (where he was just asked to serve on the Advisory Board) in Manhattan, and his work is represented by the Domeischel Gallery in New York City and the DeFrog Gallery in Houston, TX.