Photographer Stephan Hederich has always been interested in social issues.
“I grew up in Cologne, Germany, with a keen interest in politics and very early on developed a concern for communities in crisis,” he said.
Vanishing Breed, his show of 40 photographs of local farmers and their families, opens at the Grace Jollymore Joyce Arts Centre in Tatamagouche on Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. The show runs until Oct. 15.
The exhibition is Hederich’s attempt to address the anger and disappointment that farmers experience – those who feel left behind by societal changes.
“Traditional farmers are a dying breed and small scale farms are in crisis,” Hederich said. He admits that organic farming, fuelled by concern about healthy diet, is encouraging but, “farmers are caught up in economic changes and it’s so difficult to make ends meet. It is so much easier to make a living in other ways.”
Reg Delorey, his wife, Amy West, and their three children are the subjects of one of Hederich’s photographs. Delorey works full time as a forestry supervisor to support his farming. He concedes it’s not an easy way to make a living and is definitely not a 9-to-5 job. In order to be successful, a farmer must be a mechanic, welder, vet and nutritionist. “We wear a bunch of different hats,” he said.
West is in agreement with her husband.
“It’s a hard life and it is a very noble life but it puts a lot of demands on the family. It’s been a good life for our kids. They drive tractors, feed animals and have grown up to be highly responsible. They know where their food comes from,” she said.
For Delorey, the bonds of their shrinking community are strong.
“We help each other out. We share and borrow from each other when we need to. I’ve been helped when I’ve had breakdowns and the rain was coming and I’ve helped others,” he said.
Like West and Delorey, the vast majority of the farmers in Hederich’s photographs are from the Tatamagouche area, while some live as far away as Windsor. There are pictures of beef, sheep and llama producers, strawberry growers, dairy farmers and mixed farmers among others.
“These people are such an important part of our community and culture,” Hederich said.
The show is done entirely in black and white. It is an analog project using a gelatin silver process that was developed in the late 19th century. Hederich believes that this pre-digital technique is perfectly suited to the subject matter as it is an old technique befitting a traditional way of life.
His challenge was to take a limited number of shots, to judge the light very carefully and be attentive to framing each picture. He confined himself to using only one roll of film for each subject. None of the photos have been cropped and all are large, measuring 15×19 inches. The framing is done with ¾ inch angle iron.
Hederich’s interest in photography began when he was 12 years old. His father gave him his first camera and by the time he was 18, he was taking photos for his high school yearbook. From there, it was on to photography school in Berlin. In 2000, he immigrated to Canada searching for a place where land was affordable and inspired by Robert Frank, the Swiss American photographer who settled in Mabou.
Hederich put down roots on the Balmoral Road where he established a biodynamic farm consisting of a large vegetable garden with herds of fallow deer and goats on a farm that has been in operation since the 1880s. At present, he operates a non-commercial farm. He credits his ability to connect with his subjects on his knowledge of agriculture and his respect for farmers.
“They trusted me to take their pictures and I am hoping that they will come to the opening of my show,” he said.