While sitting in a coffee shop in northern Michigan, Paul Mobley noticed two farmers who came in for their morning cups of java. Mobley, a photographer, immediately read the commitment and character reflected in their faces. The need to capture these qualities—the essence of the American spirit—is what inspired Mobley to create a book that visually conveyed the stories of farmers across the United States.
Since its publication in 2008, American Farmer has risen to the Number 6 position for coffee table books on Amazon. Mobley has been featured on “Martha Stewart Show”, CNN, “The Today Show” and “America's Heartland” (PBS) as well as in National Geographic magazine, People and Country Living.
“This is the most pure, honest photography I've ever done,” said Mobley. “Book deals are not easy to get. And once you do get them, they mean nothing until you have something to show. This book has been extremely well-received by those from the agricultural industry as well as mainstream media captivated by the images.”
To complete American Farmer, Mobley consulted with the American Farm Bureau to locate farmers who might be ideal subjects for his book. The project took four years and led him 100,000 miles across 37 states where he snapped over 40,000 photographs. He met cherry farmers in Glen Arbor (Michigan), citrus farmers in Florida, organic dairy farmers in Maine and beekeepers in Texas among others.
“You know, I can still hear the voice of Walter Farynk (former photography instructor at CCS) in my head spouting, ‘Good isn’t good enough,’” reminisced Mobley. “He was a tough critic, but instead of letting the criticism get me down, it gave me something to live up to. I wanted American Farmer to exceed those standards.”
Mobley’s book reveals the talent he has developed over a successful career of 27 years in the photography business. He got his start shortly after graduation from CCS when he hopped on a bus heading for New York. Once he arrived, he went studio-to-studio knocking on the doors of photographers he admired to see if they needed assistants. His persistence landed him work with Annie Leibovitz, Steve Steigman and David Langley. After two years as an assistant, he ventured out on his own. Eventually his portfolio grew to include commercial clients such as American Express, Sony, Citigroup, Ford, Compaq, Gourmet, Max Factor, Chevrolet and Microsoft as well as pro-bono work for the American Humane Society.
“I started off doing fashion photography,” said Mobley. “Eventually that led to advertising work, and I found an agent who landed me other types of commercial jobs.
“One of my fondest memories from New York was meeting my idol, Irving Penn. I only got a few minutes with him, but I got the chance to ask him what it takes to be a good photographer. He thought for a moment, then answered, ‘to see the world in your own way.’
“And that’s what I’ve done with all of my work. Whether I’m shooting a tube of lipstick or the portrait of a rancher, I try to find something unique about my subject and make it my focal point. The advice has done me good.”
- Paul Mobley Studios