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Global Agriculture

December 10, 2020 //  Commissioned Work Back to posts

Cotton farmer Matt Muller. Altus, Oklahoma, USA

It’s the night of my birthday, pre-Covid. We’re seated at a dive bar in rural Oklahoma, drinking 4 dollar beers under a neon Miller Lite sign. We very well could be inside a cliche Americana film scene as envisioned by cosmopolitan advertising agency people from New York. But the dive bar is not a movie set— years of dust from the cotton harvest of the farms nearby have caked into the wood siding outside, and those layers are too real of a detail for an art department to capture. We have come to photograph this real thing. The farmers and seasonal workers at the bar do not grimace and ask, “You ain’t from ‘round here, are yeh?” Instead, they welcome us, and wonder which of their neighbors they can make fun of for agreeing to have their photo taken.

The next day begins a year long photo project for an agriscience company, Corteva. We meet the rest of the team in our hotel lobby, unaware of the ultimate bond we will all grow into through the work and travel ahead. A quick glance at this series and you’ll find us across the globe in the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Vietnam, India, Ukraine, South Africa, and Canada. It was the ultimate adventure into a world often overlooked, but essential to all life as we know it— the farm.

​​​​​​​At the time, we could move about easily from airport to airport, driving remotely into the countryside where we stood in fields of coffee, cotton, corn, soy, carrots, eggplants, flowers, wheat, pecans, and grapes— to name a few. When creating the images, you may see us hanging from a plow at dusk in Oklahoma. You might find us on a skiff in Vietnam, or caught in a torrential downpour in Brazil. Maybe we are in the back of rickshaw in India, or inside a dusty corn silo in Wisconsin. Look again and we’re in a farmer’s home in Ukraine, or we’re breaking bread with our team in South Africa after a long day. An initial glance shows a vast expanse of farmland stretching horizons across different continents, yet a closer look and you’ll see the character behind the faces of the people that drive our global food chain. This is what we set out to capture.

Green onion farmer Tran Ngoc Phuong. Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Corn farmer and mechanic Tisha Mthimunye. Buiteplass Delmas, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Rice farmer Vasu Devan. Elevancherry, Palakkad, Kerala, India

Peach and plum farmers Bob Renwick and Vicente Lopez. Berberian Farm, Reedley, California

I grew up in the Canadian countryside. I feel at home on these back country roads with my team. I had already cultivated an interest in farming over the years through other projects and travel, when we were tasked with putting our voice into these portraits. Luckily for us, these farms proved to be a treasure trove of subjects for the series. We photographed real farmers on their own land, with their families, doing their actual work. Location scouts and agricultural researchers sent ahead of us produced tips on beautiful places and some truly amazing stories. When we arrived ourselves, we searched back rooms and garages, finding light so perfect, no strobe could match it. Often times we were in awe of how inspiring some of these locations were, as well as the subjects we were meeting.

​​​​​​​I’ve built my career upon elevating my subjects in their environment. There are many stylistic ways to do this and every portrait photographer has their own approach. In the beginning, I used strong key lights to emphasize this elevation. Over time, I’ve been developing a more natural approach. In this series, we focused on the strength of subtle manipulation in order to emphasis the subject. Instead of using an overpowering key light, we relied on the beauty of what was already there.  From the reflection of sunlight made warm by the golden stocks of wheat to the diffused light of darkened skies. We shot campaign images on days we were supposed to be scouting. We used cutters for shadows and keyed through anything that made sense. Practical lights were enhanced, instead of replaced. We worked with the light that was available, instead of against it. We were up every morning before dawn, inside in the afternoons, and then back to the fields before dusk. In return these farmers welcomed us into their daily lives. Our approach resonated with the flow of their own operation. It’s this adaptation that proved successful and led to some truly memorable moments during the shoot. 

Canola farmer Kayden Stewart. Stewart Farm, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Gaucho horsemen Jorge David Cosentino and Ricardo Escacardo. Pergamino Partido, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

Heavy machinery mechanic Valeriy Novikov, Kherson Oblast, Ukraine

Pepper farmer Joice Tais de Oliveira. Itaberá, State of São Paulo, Brazil

There are many variables that go into the success of a photograph, and even more when you go into a series or campaign. This project was one of those shoots that had all the variables line up to something really great. Our creative and production team, Gina Senese and Emily Robbins, collaborated with us to work our style into these campaign photographs. They helped set the stage to allow my personal vision to fit into a client narrative. It was the meshing of these worlds that fostered portraits that are true to my work and interests. Their research, contacts, and talents were paramount to this relationship and to the photos you see now. Our producer Scott Puryear came from a farm family himself, which is still operational between photoshoots. He was our proxy into the world of farming along every step of the way. Scott’s experience helped deepen my understanding of the subject and support the processes taken to achieve a powerful portrait. My core photo team, Brian McGuffog and Will Martinez, were equally as excited to be working under these circumstances. All of these elements created a situation simply ripe for shooting. It’s impossible to do this all alone. It’s the strength and resources of a team that allows this level of production in a shorter amount of time. Harnessing all this power in the right direction is how these caliber of shoots can really thrive. Its personal work on speed.


We all had our roles in creating portraits that were true to the hard working nature of these farmers. We worked through blistering heat and stifling cold. Often times, we were muddied, dusted, or drenched. We climbed trees, silos, ladders and hills. There were horses, goats, dogs, cats, cows, chickens, geese, and monkeys on set. We chased light. We worked hard. These farmers are no stranger to that. They were eager to show us their ropes, as we were eager to show them ours.


I thought about splitting up these images into different blog posts to share, but the images make the most sense when viewed together— as a global network of agricultural visuals, the way they were originally intended.

OKLAHOMA, USA

Above: Cotton farmer Matt Muller. Altus, Oklahoma, USA

Above: William, pecan farmer. Idabel, Oklahoma, USA

MEKONG DELTA, VIETNAM

Above: Tran Ngoc Phuong, green onion farmer. Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Above: Ngo Van Hieu, motocycle taxi drver. Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Above: Nguyen Thi Nht, rice farmer. Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Above: Pham Quang Minh, rice farmer. Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Above: Vu Ngoc Thiet, Đà Lạt, Vietnam

Above: Bu Thi Xuan, coffee farmer, Đà Lạt, Vietnam

Above: Nguyen Van Toan family, coffee farmers. Đà Lạt, Vietnam

Above: Bu Thi Xuan, coffee farmer. Đà Lạt, Vietnam

Above: Tran Cong Ngoc, the “Coffee Cowboy”. Vuan Ca Phe Ngoc Farm Cau Dat, Lam Dong, Da Lat, Vietnam

SOUTH AFRICA

Above: Dirk Jr and Joubert van Niekerk (right), Buiteplass Delmas, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Above: Nico Ligthelm, wheat farmer. Buiteplass Delmas, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Above: Pretty Masimula, corn farmer. Buiteplass Delmas, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Above: Farmers and mechanics Tisha Mthimunye and Dirk van Niekerk.  Buiteplass Delmas, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Above: Mechanic Simphiwe Mahlangu. Buiteplass Delmas, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Above: Sophie Noplaboma, sunflower farmer. Alfer Farming, Naboomspruit, Limpopo, South Africa

Above: Refliwe Aphane, sunflower farmer. Alfer Farming, Naboomspruit, Limpopo, South Africa

Above: Dolphina Kekana and Andrew Poortier. Alfer Farming, Naboomspruit, Limpopo, South Africa

Above: Andrew Poortier, Alfer Farming, Naboomspruit, Limpopo, South Africa

Above: Nurse Sithole, Naboomspruit, Limpopo, South Africa

Above: Pretty Masimula, corn farmer. Buiteplass Delmas, Mpumalanga, South Africa

KERALA, INDIA

Above: Rajeena Joi, rice farmer. Elevancherry, Palakkad, Kerala, India

Above: Sumathi Ponmala, rice farmer. Palakkad, Kerala, India

Above: Birds feed off freshly harvested rice. Elevancherry, Palakkad, Kerala, India

Above: Thankraj, Tuk-tuk driver. Elevancherry, Palakkad, Kerala, India

Above: Vasant Rao, farm owner. Biranpalli, Warangal, India

Above: Sunitha Chekati, Biranpalli, Warangal, India

Above: A family enjoys a meal together. Ramanunni (father), Aishwarya (daughter), Jyothi (mother). Palakkad, Kerala, India

Above: Three generations of women. Parukutti (grandmother), Aishwarya (daughter), Jyothi (mother), Palakkad, Kerala, India

UKRAINE

Above: Ms. Karpenko, Sunflower farmer. Kakhovs'kyi district, Kherson Oblast, Ukraine

Above: Grigory Krysko in rapeseed field. Kherson Oblast, Ukraine

Above: Seasonal workers Kozirenko and Svetlana Neguliaeva. Kherson Oblast, Ukraine

Above: Seasonal worker Svetlana Neguliaeva in a wheat field. Kherson Oblast, Ukraine

Above: Grigory Krysko. Kherson Oblast, Ukraine

Above: Mister Voznesenskiy, farming equipment engineer. Kherson Oblast, Ukraine

Above: Vitaliy Glyan, mechanic and duck farmer. Kherson Oblast, Ukraine

Above: Vera Konovalova and her daughter Maria in sunflower field. Kherson Oblast, Ukraine

Above: Andriy Tomak with his father Vitaliy and grandfather Grigory in a rapeseed field. Kherson Oblast, Ukraine

Above: Grigory Krysko at home. Kherson Oblast, Ukraine

BUENOS AIRES PROVINCE, ARGENTINA

Above: Constanza Mazzini, farmer. Pergamino Partido, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

Above: Constanza Mazzini, farmer. Pergamino Partido, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

Above: Pergamino Partido, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

Above: Gaucho horsemen Jorge David Cosentino and Ricardo Escacardo. Pergamino Partido, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

Above: Pergamino Partido, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

Above: Gaucho horseman Jorge David Cosentino. Pergamino Partido, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

BRAZIL

Above: Divail Benedito Pereira Lopes, farmhand and mechanic. Itabera, Brazil

Above: Divail Benedito Pereira Lopes and Isaias Marcelino, farmhands and mechanics. Itabera, Brazil

Above: Farmhand residence in Itaberá, State of São Paulo, Brazil

Above: Itaberá, State of São Paulo, Brazil

Above: Soy field. Itaberá, State of São Paulo, Brazil

Above: Cristiano Aparecido Cardoso, farmland. Sitio Caete Farm. Itaberá, State of São Paulo, Brazil 

MANITOBA, CANADA

Above: The Stewart family. Craig Stewart (top), Keanna Stewart (daughter), Kayden Stewart (son), Shaylene Harper (mother/wife), Bruce Stewart (father/grandfather). Stewart Farms. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Above: Eric Peters. Henervic Farms. Randolph, Manitoba, Canada

Above: Craig Stewart. Stewart Farms. Manitoba, Canada

Above: Cheyenne Derksen, Stewart Farms. Manitoba, Canada

Above: Vic Peters. Henervic Farms. Randolph, Manitoba, Canada

Above: Abigail Georgison, dairy farmer and mechanic. Stewart Farms. Manitoba, Canada

Above: Roy Burger, farmhand and mechanic. Henervic Farms. Randolph, Manitoba, Canada

CALIFORNIA, USA

Above: Peach harvesters. Berberian Farm, Reedley, California

Above: Plum harvesters. Berberian Farm, Reedley, California

Above: John Mendes in almond harvester. Berberian Farm, Reedley, California

Above: Maria Cesa, grape harvester. RJM Vineyards. Ripon, California

Above: Magnus Olson, grape farmer and craft brewery owner. Kingsburg, California

Above: RJM Vineyards. Ripon, California

Above: Bobby and Brad Olson, grape farmers. Kingsburg, California

WISCONSIN, USA

Above: Scott Carlson with wind turbine. Carlson Farm. New Richmond, Wisconsin, USA

Above: Brett Carlson. Carlson Farm. New Richmond, Wisconsin, USA

Above: Carlson Family. New Richmond, Wisconsin, USA

Above: Tony Mellenthin. Mellenthin Farms, Eau Galle, Wisconsin, USA

Above: Mellenthin Farms, Eau Galle, Wisconsin, USA

Above: Jeremy Gruber and his son and Michael. Mellenthin Farms, Eau Galle, Wisconsin, USA

Above:  Kristin Quist, dairy farmer. Minglewood Farm, Deer Park, Wisconsin, USA

I would like to thank the following people for bringing this project to life:
​​​​​​​

Corteva:
Steve Betz, Amy Myers, Traci Rodemeyer

Ogilvy: Gina Senese, Emily Robbins, Mike Hahn, Leslie Dacri, Stephanie AwYong, Debbie Yoo, Katie Connolly, Gabriella Pizzitola, Karen Rossiter, Hayley Grassetti, Joel Kuntz

Agent: Ehrin Feeley at BA-Reps

Core Photo Team: Brian McGuffog, Will Martinez

Core Production Team: Scott Puryear, Bart Procacci at SPUR Productions

Argentina Production: Tif at El Río

Brazil Production: Cristian and Sebas Marini at Ocean Films

India Production: Achal and Harsha Sinha at Elements Asia

Vietnam Production: Shelley McMorrow, Tram Pham, Anh Pham

Ukraine Production: Bella Ryabushkina at PSB Films

South Africa Production: André van Wyk at Steel Productions

Canada Production: Prarie Boy Productions

Special Thanks: Nick Leadlay, Michael "Mad Dog" Kinsey, Devin Karrington, Evan West, Davis DiLillo, Josh Rowe, Guy Parsonage, Andy Reeves, Vanessa Gsell, Erika Buzin

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ADD A COMMENT (20)

Chris // December 11, 2020 20:36

Incredible as ever Joey!

Michael Graydon // December 12, 2020 12:25

The dedication to your perspective, and to your subjects is, as ever, breathtaking. Your visual approach to this project marks a beautiful step forward. Absolutely stunning. Photography at its highest level. Congratulations Joey.

Jeff P Dietz // December 12, 2020 16:16

Amazing as always Joey! Will you be doing any BTS from this series or video? Your lighting is truly amazing. I wrote to you on Instagram more in length as well, but any tips on how you fund something like this? How to fund an art series/gallery display on a smaller state or local scale?
Thanks again! Amazing work

Tommy Hatwell // December 12, 2020 18:01

Joey, I trust you filmed this adventure?? I love the beautiful yet subtle light throughout the images, the whole team should be so excited and proud of this, a year long adventure, resulting in a sensational, cohesive and inspirational record not only of the farmers around the world and the frames into their lives but also the relationships formed by everyone involved in such an outstanding project. Thanks as always Tommy!

Cynthia Roderick // December 12, 2020 18:12

I love these images, Joey...the light is gorgeous, too...would love to see anything more about the project you post...behind the scenes would be great....keep up the wonderful work...

Sander van der Veen // December 12, 2020 18:32

A real joy for the eye, wonderful work and story.

Maria Pablo // December 12, 2020 21:37

Dear Joey, I have been watching your growth in photography since I heard about you in 2015. I love the way you write, it’s poetic just like the images you capture are a work of art. That’s what it is, your subjects in their Element are captured like works of art and you pay close attention to the light and how the light wraps around their faces. To create such imagery takes a team and research. I see the value, hard work and effort that goes into this. Your work doesn’t go unnoticed. Continue being a voice and storyteller for the voiceless. Bravo to you and your amazing team.

Shane Baker // December 13, 2020 01:22

Joey these are incredible. It's obvious that you made time to develop, even briefly, a warm relationship with everyone you photographed so they could give a peak at their humanity.

Been a fan of yours since before I was even a photographer. Great work man.

Eduardo Emeregildo // December 13, 2020 01:56

Hi Joey, it is always a great pleasure to see your work. Being able to capture these farmers at work and at the same time create a work of art is breathtaking and inspirational.

Kelly Padgett // December 13, 2020 02:45

Outstanding as always. You're images from Vietnam are of significant interest to me. Having lived and worked there for 5 years (photo/video), its excellent to see something different come out of that country, a different perspective of sorts. Thank you for sharing, and a big thanks to all of the farmers who gave their time.

Sergiy Chmara // December 13, 2020 11:11

Joey, thank you for such amazing journey across the world. Your work is outstanding!

James // December 13, 2020 13:35

As beautiful and powerful as always Joey. Truly inspiring and thoughtful. It would be great to see your BTS experience too.

Joseph Vasquez // December 13, 2020 16:30

Damn! You were in Reedley? Would have loved to take you out to dinner at any of our local places. Amazing images!

James Harding // December 13, 2020 21:19

An incredible array of images Joey, a collection of beautiful images your portraits are always so thoughtfully executed. I'm sure the group shots were especially tricky to pull off. There are so many wonderful images some of my favourites are of Mellenthin Farms in Wisconsin. Thanks for sharing

Ernest // December 14, 2020 05:00

Another great project. Delighted to see you also visited South Africa, when did you visit ?

Thank you JL, keep inspiring.

Samer Moukadem // December 14, 2020 23:03

Congratulations Joey, I'm glad that you still spreading the enchant of Photography especially in these hard moments that we are living ! I've seen your previous projects and as always, a very nice job you've made with this new project, Love it !
All the best..
Thank you for sharing.

Tina Harris // December 16, 2020 01:18

Gorgeous photographs, as always!

Marie // December 20, 2020 14:39

I have been a fan of your work for several years, your portraits are breathtaking. The connection with your subjects is real and lovely, they obviously like you and trust you. Exceptional work Joey, truly inspirational. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world.

Javier Cardona // December 21, 2020 21:42

Love the text, the images, and the feeling, when I am seeing them, such a great artist and storyteller, thank you.

YUTA KATO // January 07, 2021 14:45

the excitement that I received from those photos are insane. Thank you so much, Joey. Seriously tho, thank you so much.

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