Last autumn I had the opportunity to work on a 3-day series of shoots for a story (written by Brendan Borrell) in Smithsonian magazine about competitive vegetable growers. We spent most of our time concentrated on a small group of farmers in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, and their pursuit of the sacred giant pumpkin. After a very long waiting period (that being the only bummer about this gig), the piece is finally here -- so see us in print in the October issue on newsstands now, or online here.
This project will definitely go down as one of my favorite editorial assignments ever, precisely because it involved photographing a perfect triumvirate of autumn, farming, and pumpkins.
Specifically the pumpkins -- those who know me well can attest to my love of many things pumpkin: pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin beer, and more (if you're keeping track at home, so far this season I think my favorite pumpkin brews are the Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale and the Hoppin' Frog Double Pumpkin Ale).
Even managed to snag the lead image on the contents page, so a huge thanks due to the crew at Smithsonian, and especially to photo editor Molly Roberts. Every shoot I've done for this magazine I felt like has put me into situations to make decent pictures, and I appreciate the staff for understanding and fostering that with a healthy balance of guidance vs. hands-off. And to see the magazine respond by giving the images big play in print is a nice cherry on the sundae.
Here's some outtakes from the giant pumpkin farmers and their competition (this year's winner weighed in at 1,663 lbs.)
Reflecting back on all these images, and particularly after a refreshing recent trip up to the Northwoods (more to come soon about that), really makes it quite clear to me that yes, as ancient civilizations discovered long ago (even though they might not have had a name for it yet), autumn is a magical time. There's something mysterious and fascinating about it that invigorates me -- something physiological that I always feel very deep in my bones but can never quite fully identify. I think maybe it has to do with the light (both literally and figuratively), every photographer's obsession.
It begins by the equinox, the precise day when the sun is directly overhead at the equator, creating a distinct balance of light across the Earth of exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. From that point we embark on the descent into the cold darkness of winter, but not before celebrating the final harvest of summer's bounty of crops to be collected for the journey.
Though most profoundly felt, to me, are the radiant visual components of autumn, revolving around the symbolism of fire and light:
The farmers burning their fields to get rid of straw or weeds or other old growth left over after the harvest, to prepare the soil for new seeding in the spring;
How the landscape appears ablaze with red, yellow and orange tones of fading leaves;
The calm of a bonfire as it brings warmth and chases away nite;
How the sun glows in a different way as it positions itself lower on the horizon for more hours in the day, its shadows cast much further, its hues more golden and orange and contrasted against deep dark clouds.