TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:00:12:08
(Music)
01:00:37:17
ELLEN HOBGOOD:
He brought it out in people.
He brought the rawness out.
01:00:44:04
BOBBY NEW:
It really showed
the feelings of the people
01:00:49:04
that had endured a lot of pain
during the depression era
01:00:54:04
and during war time.
01:01:01:10
HAVA GUREVICH:
Up until somebody from New York
was interested in the pictures,
01:01:04:01
they had no value.
01:01:06:12
They just had the sentimental
that they've had for 50 years.
01:01:11:11
MICKEY BARNETT:
They're not even pictures
anymore. They're money.
01:01:14:02
They changed from pictures
of my grandmother to money.
01:01:21:14
JULIA SCULLY:
I guess some people could look
at it as a commodity.
01:01:25:26
But none of that
would have happened
01:01:27:07
if it hadn't had
that soul to start with.
01:01:30:27
People recognize the greatness
of the human spirit
01:01:34:27
and Disfarmer got that.
01:01:37:18
And I think that's the power
of the photographs.
01:01:42:18
(Music)
Disfarmer: A Portrait of America
01:01:54:12
REX HARRAL:
I'd say he was 5'9"
01:01:58:06
and probably 175 lbs.
01:02:01:05
MICKEY BARNETT:
Scraggly, funny hat,
dirty, little dirty.
01:02:06:05
I wouldn't touch him.
01:02:08:07
REX HARRAL:
But he always was slick shaved.
I reckon he shaved every day.
01:02:11:02
I never did see him
with a beard on his face.
01:02:13:13
ELLEN HOBGOOD:
I've heard that he was unusual,
you know.
01:02:18:12
I heard he drank.
He drank and smoked.
01:02:21:02
TOM OLMSTEAD:
As children,
we were afraid of him.
01:02:24:07
He looked that bad.
He was scary.
01:02:27:00
He wore a big old heavy, heavy,
heavy wool overcoat.
01:02:32:00
TOBA TUCKER:
He was a man of few words,
you know.
01:02:33:25
He was an infidel.
He didn't go to church.
01:02:35:27
OLIVE BALDRIDGE:
Nobody knew anything about him,
very little about him.
Disfarmer: A Portrait of America
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:02:39:13
He only told
what he wanted to tell.
01:02:42:02
REX HARRAL:
He just didn't bother
with a lot of talk.
01:02:43:28
If he knew you real well,
he'd open up more.
01:02:46:06
But if he didn't know you,
01:02:47:14
he just said what he needed
to say and that was it.
01:02:48:29
TOBA TUCKER:
Basically, he was a loner.
01:02:50:17
REX HARRAL:
If he didn't know you,
01:02:51:21
or something you said,
he didn't like,
01:02:53:01
he'd cut you off short,
you know.
01:02:54:24
He'd tell you, "You go to hell."
01:02:56:24
MICKEY BARNETT:
I remember him pretty well
during that time.
01:02:58:15
I just remember him
being a weirdo.
01:03:03:21
PETER MILLER:
I'm a lawyer now
How Peter Miller discovered Mike Disfarmer
but before I was a lawyer,
01:03:06:24
I was a photographer.
01:03:08:22
My wife and I lived in New York
01:03:10:07
and I was wanting to be
Peter Miller
a photographer.
LAWYER
01:03:13:14
We had some friends in Arkansas
and she and I came to Arkansas
01:03:18:00
and decided to sort of
look around.
01:03:20:04
We were unhappy
living in New York.
01:03:25:00
So, there I am in Heber Springs,
quintessential New Yorker,
01:03:28:09
Jewish to boot, sort of this
sort of outsider
01:03:31:22
working at a newspaper
called
01:03:35:09
And as a way of promoting it,
we had this contest.
01:03:40:09
And the contest was,
"Someday My Prints Will Come."
01:03:45:09
And the idea was,
if you give us a photograph
01:03:48:11
of yourself or your kin,
we will print it.
01:03:52:19
Well, suddenly, some of the old
photographs started showing up.
01:03:58:10
I looked at them. I loved them.
01:04:00:17
I found out whose they were
and I went to Joe Albright.
01:04:06:13
MICKEY BARNETT:
Joe Albright is the fellow
Dr. Mickey Barnett
that had salvaged
CLEBURNE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
01:04:08:16
the Disfarmer plates.
01:04:11:17
Mike Disfarmer was dead
and had been a couple of years
01:04:15:11
and they were going to bulldoze
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
that studio.
01:04:17:14
And Joe Albright,
a realtor here, bought--
01:04:20:14
for five bucks, from the bank--
the contents of the old studio.
01:04:24:24
PETER MILLER:
So, we went down
and there were these boxes
01:04:27:08
of mouldering negatives.
01:04:28:27
I felt like it was something
01:04:30:15
that should be saved
and preserved.
01:04:33:27
MICKEY BARNETT:
It wasn't until then
that any of us
01:04:36:25
had the remotest idea
that Mike Meyer--
01:04:41:17
Mike Disfarmer,
Mike Disfarmer
alias Mike Meyer--
01:04:44:02
had any particular talent
at all.
01:04:46:24
(Music)
01:04:54:21
MICKEY BARNETT:
Most of his subjects were people
who came in from the country,
01:04:57:15
on the weekend, and for
more or less entertainment,
01:05:00:23
went down and got their picture
made for a quarter.
01:05:05:14
It was entertainment for them,
pure and simple.
01:05:08:22
CHARLOTTE LACEY:
Saturday was the big day
to come to town.
01:05:12:20
The streets in Heber Springs
Charlotte Lacey
were full of people.
RETIRED TEACHER, HEBER SPRINGS
01:05:17:04
And they just kind of walked
from one end of Main Street
01:05:19:24
up and go down the other,
visiting with people.
01:05:22:25
And of course, if you
came to town on Saturday,
01:05:25:08
why you had to go to Disfarmer
to get your picture made.
01:05:32:24
HAVA GUREVICH:
Having your picture taken
Hava Gurevich
was this event, you know,
DIRECTOR, THE DISFARMER PROJECT
01:05:35:13
in their Sunday best and,
you know,
01:05:38:00
they came from out of town
01:05:40:04
specifically to have
their picture taken.
01:05:43:16
TOM OLMSTEAD:
It was a great thrill to go to
Tom Olmstead
Mike Meyers Disfarmer's studio
FUNERAL DIRECTOR
01:05:48:16
and have your picture made.
That was really something.
01:05:52:15
We didn't have much.
01:05:55:23
It was a big deal to spend
a quarter to get a picture made.
01:05:59:00
It might have taken an hour
01:06:01:02
to make that quarter.
01:06:04:13
You picked strawberries maybe,
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
for 2¢ a quart
01:06:07:04
and you finally
get enough pennies
01:06:08:17
for you to go down there
and have your picture made.
01:06:11:10
Yeah, it's pretty tough.
But that's okay.
01:06:15:03
I mean, we lived through it,
didn't we?
01:06:17:13
Yeah, and we lived through
World War II.
01:06:19:17
MICKEY BARNETT:
The guys coming back from war
really enjoyed
01:06:22:00
going down there with their
sweetheart and their mom
01:06:24:12
and getting their pictures taken
in their uniforms and all that.
01:06:29:12
HAVA GUREVICH:
And then you have all the women
who would come in
01:06:32:13
to get photographs
so they can send the pictures
01:06:34:09
to their husbands or boyfriends
in the war.
01:06:37:01
And those ranged from women
01:06:41:03
arranging themselves on the
little table in these
01:06:43:08
sort of really provocative
poses, like these little pinups,
01:06:47:11
to standing stiffly.
01:06:50:27
REX HARRAL:
And I took my girlfriend out
Rex Harral
01:06:52:00
and we had our picture
CRAFTSMAN AND STORYTELLER
made together.
01:06:53:24
And I'm pretty sure I was 16.
01:06:56:17
INTERVIEWER:
And what was it like?
01:06:59:07
REX HARRAL:
Oh, I burnt that picture
a long time ago.
01:07:04:03
She stood me up
and I burnt the picture.
01:07:06:24
(Music)
1976, Peter Miller sends the photographs to Modern Photography magazine in New York
01:07:23:15
JULIA SCULLY:
One day, I noticed this package
came in to my desk.
01:07:26:26
It was a large package
of photographs.
01:07:29:27
And it was a little off-putting.
01:07:31:14
I mean, we used to get hundreds
Julia Scully
of submissions a week
EDITOR, MODERN PHOTOGRAPHY
01:07:35:19
from people wanting to
get their pictures published.
01:07:37:21
And it was kind of
a tedious chore
01:07:40:08
to have to open all these things
01:07:42:13
and 99 or more percent of them
we couldn't use.
01:07:46:05
So, that package sat on my desk
for probably at least a week
01:07:49:25
before I got around
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
to opening it.
01:07:52:15
But anyway, umm,
I did open it one day
01:07:56:28
and there was a group of
the Disfarmer pictures.
01:08:01:07
And I was just astonished.
I thought,
01:08:06:07
"Who are these people?
Who's this photographer?"
01:08:10:15
I was immediately
taken with them.
01:08:12:15
They just seemed so powerful,
so immediate.
01:08:17:11
They were sent to me by
Peter Miller, so I called Peter
01:08:21:17
and I said, "How about
you and I go into partnership?
01:08:25:04
If you have enough
good pictures like this,
01:08:27:19
I'll put together a dummy
and I'll write a text
01:08:30:19
and try to find a publisher
for them." He said, "Great."
01:08:35:11
The show and the book got
reviewed and it was, like,
01:08:39:04
instant recognition
of how wonderful the work was.
01:08:45:24
MICKEY BARNETT:
My dad ran a big store
in Heber Springs all of my life.
01:08:48:29
I worked there as a little kid,
01:08:50:25
selling these people
peanut patties
01:08:52:01
and Nehi orange and grape drinks
01:08:55:05
when I was 7, 8, 9,
10 years old.
01:08:59:10
And why a picture of Charlie,
that I knew so well,
01:09:02:11
now, all of a sudden,
01:09:03:29
was in a book published by
a New York publisher
01:09:07:13
was a total mystery to me and
virtually everybody else here.
01:09:10:22
(Music)
01:09:17:09
TOBA TUCKER:
I came to photography
Toba Tucker
later in life.
PHOTOGRAPHER
01:09:19:11
And when I decided to be
a portrait photographer,
01:09:22:11
I spent a great deal of time,
before I picked up a camera,
01:09:25:20
looking at photographs.
01:09:27:22
I wanted to look at originals,
not only read books.
01:09:30:23
So, I went to The International
Center of Photography,
01:09:33:16
in 1976,
01:09:36:12
and just happened to see
this exhibit
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:09:40:07
by this old-time photographer,
Mike Disfarmer.
01:09:43:24
DAN HURLIN:
I was in Barnes & Noble
Dan Hurlin
and I saw this beautiful book
DIRECTOR, DISFARMER PUPPET THEATRE
01:09:46:06
and it had a beautiful picture
of two men together
01:09:48:19
and they were
very close to each other
01:09:51:09
and very physical with each
other and that attracted me.
01:09:54:27
Then I turned the spine over
and it just "Disfarmer".
01:09:58:17
And I thought, "What's that?"
01:10:01:14
So, I sat down
and started reading the book.
01:10:04:23
At first, I was enthralled
with the pictures
01:10:06:21
but then I became
kind of fascinated with him.
01:10:09:28
TOBA TUCKER:
Those photographs
were so compelling
01:10:12:05
that I found myself
going back again and again
01:10:15:09
but didn't really
understand why,
01:10:18:09
except that now, in retrospect,
01:10:20:25
I realize it appealed to me
innately as a visual
01:10:25:25
but mostly because of
what I saw,
01:10:29:03
the people that I saw
in the photographs.
01:10:33:19
Ten years after I purchased the
book and saw the photographs,
01:10:38:19
I began to seriously think about
going back to Heber Springs
01:10:42:12
and photographing and see
what happened to these people.
01:10:46:22
I mean, "Do they still have
01:10:48:24
"that visual grit that I saw
in these photographs?
01:10:52:15
"Are they still there?
01:10:53:27
That strength of character,
has it survived over 50 years?"
01:10:59:18
What is in my mind
is how I know them,
01:11:03:20
from their photographs
by Disfarmer.
01:11:05:24
And so, when they came in
the door,
01:11:08:00
I fully expected
that photograph to appear.
01:11:12:06
But actually, what I did see
01:11:13:16
was that person,
recognizable but older.
01:11:16:23
"Oh, it is that person,
but it isn't anymore."
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:11:20:19
(Music)
Footage courtesy of ThePuppetFilm.com
01:11:30:05
DAN HURLIN:
People have asked me, like,
01:11:31:13
"Why did you choose puppetry
to tell this story?"
01:11:33:21
I've always thought
that puppets were ciphers,
01:11:35:26
that they were blank slates
01:11:38:01
and that you read,
on them, anything.
01:11:43:01
The puppet doesn't cry.
You make it cry in your head.
01:11:46:16
The puppeteer sort of moves it
as if it's crying
01:11:48:28
but you are the one
who fills in the blanks.
01:11:51:00
So, in some ways,
the puppet is a cipher.
01:11:52:21
He's just a blank slate.
01:11:54:24
And, in looking at
the Disfarmer story,
01:11:57:02
I realized that
he was the same thing.
01:11:58:21
He was a complete blank slate.
01:12:03:21
It's kind of a
quintessentially American story
01:12:06:06
in that it's the loner who,
you know, is toiling alone
01:12:10:28
and is completely forgotten and
then turns out to be a genius.
01:12:26:10
SINGERS IN DINER:
# Some glad morning
when this life is o'er #
01:12:29:04
# I'll fly away #
01:12:32:28
# To a land on
God's celestial shore #
01:12:36:22
# I'll fly away #
01:12:40:05
# I'll fly away, oh glory #
01:12:43:26
# I'll fly away in the morning #
01:12:47:13
# When I die, hallelujah,
by and by #
01:12:50:21
# I'll fly away #
Not a farmer
01:12:54:10
TOM OLMSTEAD:
"Disfarmer" came from,
he wasn't a farmer in this area.
01:12:59:10
He was a dis-farmer.
01:13:03:02
JULIA SCULLY:
He had originally been
Mike Meyer
01:13:05:18
and, at some point in his life,
01:13:06:28
he decided that the Meyer family
wasn't his real family,
01:13:10:08
that he had been
taken at birth by a tornado
01:13:14:00
from his real family
and deposited with the Meyers.
01:13:18:07
And so, he wasn't going to be
a Meyer anymore.
01:13:20:23
And he named himself Disfarmer.
01:13:23:06
REX HARRAL:
See, his original name
was Meyers
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:13:24:19
and I forgot why he said
he turned that to Disfarmer.
01:13:27:01
Now, you may have
got that somewhere else
01:13:28:17
but I do remember him
telling why.
01:13:30:12
"Disfarmer" meant something
in German language.
01:13:33:15
I can't remember
what he said about it.
01:13:35:18
DAN HURLIN:
He thought "Meyer"
meant "Farmer" in German,
01:13:38:09
which it doesn't.
01:13:39:23
(Laughing)
01:13:41:25
STEPHEN BULGER:
I just think that's fantastic.
01:13:43:25
And I think he had
Stephen Bulger
the good sense to wait
STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY, TORONTO
01:13:46:11
until his mother died before
he officially changed his name.
01:13:48:24
But it wasn't just something
he put on his business card.
01:13:51:22
Like, he legally had
his name changed
01:13:53:16
and, from what I understand,
broke of all ties to his family.
01:13:58:10
MICKEY BARNETT:
Mike Meyers became obsessed
with the notion of a tornado
01:14:02:26
when his mother's house
got blown away.
01:14:07:11
But he's about half "schiz" and
he started thinking about that
01:14:11:20
and he says, "You know,
it makes a pretty good story,
01:14:14:27
if a tornado had something
Footage courtesy of ThePuppetFilm.com
to do with me personally."
01:14:19:27
That's when he
composed the notion
01:14:22:00
that he had been picked up
in Indiana in one place
01:14:25:00
and carried away
from his home and deposited
01:14:28:18
in the Meyers family's yard and
there he grew up as a Meyer.
01:14:33:18
It never occurred to him,
I don't think,
01:14:35:15
till after the tornado
blew his mother's house away.
01:14:38:27
TOM OLMSTEAD:
Few things good
come out of a storm.
01:14:42:13
The storm tears it down
so it's got to be rebuilt.
01:14:45:16
Okay, so Meyers, he come in here
01:14:47:15
and started over and
rebuilt himself a profession.
01:14:56:26
TOBA TUCKER:
You know,
After the 1926 tornado destroyed the Meyer family home, Disfarmer set up his photography studio
when he first started out,
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
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01:14:58:21
he was in business with a man
named Penrose, Penrose & Meyer.
01:15:03:23
If you look at those images,
it's quite interesting.
01:15:06:08
There's a black background
but the props they use,
01:15:08:29
there's a table
with a tablecloth
01:15:11:25
and a vase with
some flowers in it.
01:15:14:26
Now, when he went into
his own business,
01:15:16:24
he did away with that stuff.
01:15:18:17
He did away the table, he did
away with the tablecloth.
01:15:21:14
He did away with the flowers.
They weren't necessary.
01:15:24:29
He's just going to take pictures
of people and make a living.
01:15:28:13
(Music)
01:15:34:29
MAIA-MARI SUTNIK:
When you look at
Maia-Mari Sutnik
this gentleman here,
CURATOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY, ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO
01:15:38:05
posing with sort of a classic
pillar to ennoble him,
01:15:41:08
and you know,
he's shabby as can be--
01:15:43:14
You know, look at these shoes.
01:15:45:00
I mean, there's still
dust on them, you know.
01:15:47:12
But he stands by this pillar
to elevate the subject.
01:15:50:28
And he didn't need that.
01:15:53:07
He felt people came in,
they get photographed...
01:15:57:12
There was so much richness
in the subject matter
01:16:00:17
and he felt comfortable with it.
01:16:07:11
PETER MILLER:
There's an un-self-consciousness
about the photographs
01:16:10:00
that you do not see
in other photographs.
01:16:13:20
These aren't people
who just went in and smiled.
01:16:17:19
Disfarmer didn't say "Stand a
certain way, sit a certain way.
01:16:21:13
Give me a smile. Show me
your teeth. Open your eyes."
01:16:24:07
Didn't do that.
01:16:28:01
TOM OLMSTEAD:
You probably did not know for
sure when the picture was made.
01:16:33:01
Because you're sitting there
or you're standing there,
01:16:37:19
you're not posing. You're not
putting on your pretty smile,
01:16:41:08
all that sort of thing.
01:16:45:01
You're just being-- Taking a
picture of you as you are.
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:16:51:12
JULIA SCULLY:
One of the wonderful things
about Disfarmer portraits
01:16:54:16
was that he included what I
consider storytelling details,
01:16:59:01
which you wouldn't find
in a normal studio portrait.
01:17:04:03
There was an elderly lady that
was holding a fan that was
01:17:07:28
advertised in, you know,
Coca-Cola or something,
01:17:10:02
there was a little boy
holding an ice cream cone,
01:17:13:17
there was a picture of two boys,
01:17:15:15
once of which had a Disfarmer
picture in his hat band,
01:17:18:26
just all sorts of things
01:17:20:17
that added another dimension
to the pictures.
01:17:23:27
DAN HURLIN:
You look at these pictures,
you can't help...
01:17:27:00
You just can't help yourself.
You immediately go,
01:17:29:20
"Well, she's his brother
and he's going off to war,"
01:17:33:12
or "This is the mother
and these are the daughters."
01:17:37:10
You know, immediately,
your mind rushes in
01:17:39:22
to fill all of the blanks.
01:17:41:07
And it just invites you to make
01:17:44:05
tons of narrative detail
in your head
01:17:48:00
about when she bought that dress
01:17:49:23
and that's a new dress
that she's wearing
01:17:52:02
and she's never
worn that hat before
01:17:53:10
and it doesn't really
go with it.
01:17:54:17
You know, it just
goes on and on and on.
01:17:57:21
LOY NEIGHBORS:
I think I had just
Loy Neighbors interviewed by Julia Scully
got back from overseas
February, 1976
01:18:01:14
and I came through Chicago.
01:18:04:27
And I got over there
and I saw a liquor store.
01:18:08:06
And they didn't have no kind of
whiskey but cabbage
01:18:10:00
but they had lots of it.
01:18:12:19
And I went in there
and asked a man, I said,
01:18:14:12
"How much of that whiskey
can you sell me?"
01:18:16:02
He says, "All of it you want."
01:18:18:20
Well, I went to next door
and I bought a big suitcase
01:18:23:06
and went back in there
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
and I said,
01:18:24:18
"Just see how much of it
you can stack in here."
01:18:27:04
He said, "You got that
kind of money, soldier?"
01:18:29:10
I said, "I've got the money,
you just put the whiskey."
01:18:32:14
And he started putting
the whiskey in there
01:18:34:20
and I started in
the counting up the money
01:18:37:04
and we swapped out there.
01:18:38:25
And when I left out of there,
01:18:40:07
I could barely carry this
suitcase. I mean, it was heavy.
01:18:44:10
INTERVIEWER:
Look at this picture.
01:18:45:29
It looks like when you got
to Heber Springs,
01:18:47:18
you were still celebrating.
01:18:49:17
LOY NEIGHBORS:
Yeah, I celebrated a long time.
I haven't quit yet.
01:18:52:23
I really get a lot
out of living.
01:18:57:09
(Music)
Photography collector,
01:19:17:03
MICHAEL MATTIS:
In February 2004,
Michael Mattis, at his home in Scarsdale, New York
01:19:19:01
I was offered a collection
Michael Mattis
of 50 original Disfarmers.
PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTOR
01:19:23:09
And if you're
a photography collector,
01:19:25:09
that's a fairly remarkable thing
because nobody
01:19:28:07
had ever heard of even a single
original Disfarmer making it
01:19:32:02
onto the marketplace, the art
market, the photography world.
01:19:36:01
And this collection
had been put together
01:19:38:25
by two residents,
a husband and wife,
01:19:41:26
of Heber Springs who had moved
to the Chicago suburbs.
01:19:45:21
It was David
and Ashleigha Pratt.
01:19:48:16
And we looked at the collection
01:19:50:16
and our hearts skipped
a few beats because, as I said,
01:19:54:08
the thought that one would ever
see an original Disfarmer
01:19:57:21
had been the furthest thing
from our minds.
01:20:00:09
And then we went to
our library and we pulled out
01:20:03:24
Julia Scully's original book
from 30 years earlier
01:20:07:19
on Disfarmer where she said,
01:20:09:20
"Many of the originals can be
found in the family albums
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:20:14:15
of Heber Springs families."
01:20:17:04
And she had put
that tantalizing sentence
01:20:19:06
and I think nobody
had ever followed up on it.
01:20:21:28
So, we of course bought
the 50 from the Pratt family.
01:20:26:24
And then I was hooked.
01:20:29:24
STEPHEN BULGER:
Michael's very smart.
I think he's literally...
01:20:33:22
What is he? He's a nuclear
physicist, I think,
01:20:36:18
which is something that a lot of
people joke about, you know.
01:20:38:21
"He's a nuclear--" Well, he is.
And he's a very smart man.
01:20:41:12
And I think he just
analyzed the situation
01:20:44:08
and knew what he wanted to do,
01:20:46:25
which would be to amass the
largest collection of Disfarmer
01:20:49:07
that anyone thought imaginable.
01:20:50:27
Michael put together a team that
had been trained to identify
01:20:55:20
the type of print that
Michael was interested in
01:20:57:27
and then just to go out
and get as many as you could.
01:21:00:29
MICHAEL MATTIS:
They put a big war map
on their wall and set about
01:21:05:01
to go down every dirt road
within a 50 mile radius
01:21:08:22
of Disfarmer's original studio.
01:21:10:23
(Music)
01:21:23:25
HAVA GUREVICH:
Once Michael realized
that this is going to be
01:21:26:05
more than 100
or 200 photographs,
01:21:29:05
that this is going to be
a serious venture
01:21:32:26
that's going to take a while
01:21:34:15
and is going to involve
a lot of money,
01:21:38:27
he needed to have somebody there
that he could trust.
01:21:43:27
MICHAEL MATTIS:
And so Hava, who was from
a completely different culture,
01:21:47:01
or set of cultures,
was a perfect person
01:21:50:01
to insinuate herself
in a quiet way
01:21:53:07
into the local community
of picture finders.
01:21:56:24
HAVA GUREVICH:
When I first got there,
01:21:58:13
there was a period of about
two or three weeks of adjustment
01:22:03:12
where I did not understand
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
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01:22:06:01
anything that was
going on around me.
01:22:08:23
OLD WOMAN IN DANCEHALL:
Right now, I am going to be
taking the ticket from the man
01:22:13:13
and I'm going to stamp his hand.
01:22:19:18
That gets him into
the dancehall.
01:22:25:20
HAVA GUREVICH:
You know, walking into
somebody's house
01:22:27:15
and seeing
a big confederate flag
01:22:30:20
with the slogan,
"She's not coming down,"
01:22:32:15
I mean, you know,
it was sort of, like...
01:22:36:28
"What?"
01:22:38:19
SINGER IN DANCEHALL:
# I won't accept your pain #
01:22:41:11
HAVA GUREVICH:
But then, after a while,
it sort of, like,
01:22:43:14
I started to understand
their way of life.
01:22:47:12
You don't get judged.
Wear whatever you want to wear.
01:22:50:26
Nobody cares.
No one's going to judge you.
01:22:52:25
No one's going to think
differently of you
01:22:55:16
because you have last season's
jeans or whatever
01:22:58:07
or what kind of car you drive
or how fancy your apartment is
01:23:02:00
or anything like that.
It's not about that.
01:23:04:11
It's very not about that.
01:23:06:13
SINGER IN DANCEHALL:
# You don't like your job #
01:23:09:20
# Well, you can throw
your buggy down #
01:23:12:06
DEBBIE REYNOLDS:
I was really nervous at first
about it.
01:23:14:23
I thought, "Oh, a Yankee's
coming to town."
01:23:17:18
And then she became my Yankee
friend. She was a good friend.
01:23:25:23
This is the store
Debbie Reynolds
that I purchased
PICTURE FINDER
01:23:27:12
with the sale of
the Disfarmer photos.
01:23:30:01
I had two stores: one in Heber
and one Mountain View.
01:23:33:16
And it became too much for me
so I cut it down to one store.
01:23:38:00
If it hadn't of been for
The Disfarmer Project,
01:23:39:26
I would have never been able
to start my own business.
01:23:43:05
In the beginning,
I would go door-to-door.
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:23:46:05
I carried a little
photo maker scanner with me.
01:23:50:02
I'd carry it in
and I would buy their photos
01:23:53:05
and I could scan it
and give them pictures back
01:23:56:27
and then take the original
and sell 'em to Michael.
01:24:00:02
TOM OLMSTEAD:
The whole town
started talking about that.
01:24:02:14
The coffee shop talk was,
01:24:04:07
"You got a picture
made by Mike Meyers?
01:24:05:25
"If you have, goodness,
hang on to it.
01:24:08:05
It's going to be worth
a lot of money."
01:24:10:14
ELLEN HOBGOOD:
It was like a scavenger hunt,
Ellen Hobgood
almost,
ARTIST
01:24:12:27
the way the pictures
were being found.
01:24:15:01
"So and so had one," or "Do you
know somebody that has this?"
01:24:19:05
And it become like a... It was
literally a scavenger hunt.
01:24:24:05
REX HARRAL:
Yeah, I sold two or three of
them and give some of relatives.
01:24:27:10
I got a great nephew in New York
that-- he's a photographer--
01:24:30:09
and I gave him two or three.
01:24:31:25
And then my first wife,
01:24:33:13
we divorced and she stole some
of my pictures out of my album.
01:24:36:02
That was the best ones,
in other words.
01:24:38:14
TOM OLMSTEAD:
Well, I had five of them
of a pose situation,
01:24:42:12
which is very unusual to have.
01:24:45:08
They come in and looked at 'em
and they said,
01:24:47:05
"They are real different.
What about $500 a picture?"
01:24:51:08
And I says, "Well, that's fine,
but if they're so interesting
01:24:55:28
and so different
from anything that you've seen
01:24:58:21
that Mike Meyers did, uhh,
01:25:03:02
how about $1,000 a picture?"
01:25:05:07
(Laughing)
01:25:06:23
HAVA GUREVICH:
They come to Debbie
with a box of pictures
01:25:09:14
and they get $5,000 from her,
for a bunch of pictures that,
01:25:12:24
for the past 20 years
or 30 years,
01:25:14:22
they haven't even looked at.
01:25:16:08
TOM OLMSTEAD:
I thought $1,000 a picture
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
was absolutely ridiculous
01:25:19:26
for them to pay me
for those five pictures.
01:25:23:06
You know, it's just unreal.
But I took it.
01:25:28:06
OLIVE BALDRIDGE:
I was contacted by all these
Olive Baldridge
people who were trying to...
Bobby New
01:25:33:04
buying up the pictures.
Iva Jean Baldridge
01:25:35:00
This picture, right here,
this is my father.
01:25:37:04
He was on the Heber Springs
baseball team.
01:25:40:10
And I turned down $1,000 for
this one picture of my father
01:25:43:26
because it means something
to me.
01:25:46:04
I remember when
he played baseball.
01:25:48:28
And when he would
knock a home run,
01:25:52:18
I'd go out on the baseball field
and hug him and kiss him
01:25:55:22
and that meant so much to him.
01:25:57:13
And you know,
I remember all those things
01:25:59:12
and that brought back
memories to me.
01:26:01:18
BOBBY NEW:
These pictures, to me, I guess,
to sum it up, they're priceless.
01:26:05:02
OLIVE BALDRIDGE:
Absolutely. I just wouldn't sell
my pictures because I thought,
01:26:09:05
"If they're worth
that much to them,
01:26:10:28
they're worth a whole lot more
to me." And I didn't do it.
01:26:15:17
REX HARRAL:
Well, I don't blame 'em. If they
want to sell 'em, sell 'em.
01:26:18:02
I never owned very many things
in my life I wouldn't sell,
01:26:21:06
if there's enough money
involved in it.
01:26:23:26
ELLEN HOBGOOD:
I've heard, "What is the value
in them old photographs?
01:26:26:15
"Why would people want to look
at something like that?
01:26:29:26
Why... What makes them different
than the other photographer?"
01:26:33:22
HAVA GUREVICH:
They would show me
other pictures, you know,
01:26:35:17
"Here's another picture of
my Aunt Dorothy, you know,
01:26:38:08
"but this one, you know,
here she is, she's smiling,
01:26:41:11
"she's in front of her house
with her car.
01:26:44:12
Why is this one just a great
picture of my great-great aunt?"
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:26:49:03
DEBBIE REYNOLDS:
Yeah, they couldn't
understand it.
01:26:51:00
It just had to be something
to do with an art collector.
01:26:53:10
MICHAEL MATTIS:
His portraits are gripping.
01:26:54:27
When you see them on the wall,
you stop, you wonder,
01:26:57:24
all these things
run through your head.
01:26:59:22
First of all, there's pictures
of a lost America.
01:27:02:09
So, there's the nostalgic view
of this far away land
01:27:07:09
of American depression years,
and in that pregnant time,
01:27:11:07
between The Great Depression
and World War II,
01:27:14:04
when the stout young sons of the
farm took off their coveralls
01:27:18:10
and put on
their country's uniform
01:27:20:17
and went off to fight
in foreign lands.
01:27:22:14
So, it's a very pregnant time
in American history.
01:27:27:20
And the pictures do a wonderful
job of capturing that time.
01:27:33:19
On a specific level,
01:27:34:28
the pictures are
psychological bullets.
01:27:37:17
They really go through
the people
01:27:39:04
and really capture
what they're all about.
01:27:43:04
And that's what makes
a great portrait.
01:27:47:02
Where I think his genius lies
is this tension
01:27:52:02
between Disfarmer as the insider
and Disfarmer as the outsider.
01:27:56:19
If you're the studio
photographer in a small town,
01:28:00:16
by definition of your role,
you're the ultimate insider
01:28:03:23
because you're privy to every
family's private moments
01:28:07:21
and public moments of joy,
from weddings to funerals,
01:28:11:26
christenings,
high school graduations,
01:28:13:24
and the private moments when,
you know,
01:28:15:14
boyfriend and girlfriend
would want to come
01:28:17:10
and memorialize their first date
or their first kiss
01:28:19:15
in front of the photographer.
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:28:22:04
So, you're the ultimate insider.
01:28:23:28
But Disfarmer himself was also
the town's ultimate outsider.
01:28:28:01
He was a confirmed bachelor in a
town that valued large families.
01:28:33:01
He was a Lutheran in a town,
basically,
01:28:35:19
of Baptists and Methodists.
01:28:38:09
And he was an atheist to boot,
in the middle of the Bible Belt.
01:28:40:22
His father had fought for
the Union Army
01:28:43:24
and he was in
the heart of Dixie.
01:28:46:27
And he was also something of
an intellectual
01:28:48:10
in a town that valued
men of action
01:28:50:28
rather than men of ideas
and men of words.
01:28:53:11
(Music)
01:28:59:22
CHARLOTTE LACEY:
We would go into the studio
01:29:03:20
and I remember, as a child,
walking in.
01:29:07:26
You walked in and you kind of
01:29:11:25
detoured around a wall
to get in.
01:29:15:04
Of course, he had
a big sky light up there.
01:29:18:15
It was very eerie and creepy
and I would stand there waiting
01:29:22:14
and eventually he would
part a curtain in the back
01:29:26:18
and come out.
01:29:29:02
And there was a board,
a strip there
01:29:33:09
that we kind of
would be centred around.
01:29:38:08
And then he would
get his head under his camera.
01:29:43:03
As kids, we were afraid of him.
01:29:45:03
OLIVE BALDRIDGE:
When I would go into Mr. Meyers'
studio, you know,
01:29:48:16
I would go in there
scared to death
01:29:51:17
because he put that thing
on his head, that big old--
01:29:54:27
came way down--
and you were scared, really.
01:29:59:19
And you had a scared look
on your face.
01:30:02:03
HAVA GUREVICH:
And there was a story
about how he had that bell
01:30:03:24
and he would startle the kids.
01:30:05:11
DEBBIE REYNOLDS:
Scare 'em to death.
01:30:06:18
(Music)
01:30:12:26
DAN HURLIN:
If you look at all of
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
the pictures of children,
01:30:15:26
they all look like this...
01:30:17:21
They're all horrified.
01:30:19:08
They're all
completely frightened.
01:30:20:21
And if you look at
the grown-ups,
01:30:22:05
there's something a little
unsettled about them as well,
01:30:25:16
which means that the people
who are in the pictures,
01:30:27:21
are really in the present tense.
01:30:29:24
MICKEY BARNETT:
He had such a slow shutter speed
01:30:33:09
that he had to explain
to his subject,
01:30:37:13
"Now, listen,
y'all got to be still."
01:30:39:17
Because he's going to pick up
motion, and people have said,
01:30:43:07
"He would actually tell us
not to blink."
01:30:46:16
Now we've got somebody,
one: trying not to move,
01:30:48:27
two: trying not to
blink their eyes
01:30:50:29
when they feel like
they need to.
01:30:53:08
And that, to me,
is an uncomfortable situation.
01:30:54:29
And what I see when I look
at the picture is,
01:30:58:23
he ha saturated this person
with thoughts
01:31:01:00
and they're standing there
01:31:02:16
trying to obey
all the rules he's laid down
01:31:04:29
before he takes their picture.
01:31:07:13
I'm told that
he would have a genius
01:31:09:12
for capturing the person
at their natural best
01:31:12:24
and what I see there is
not at all what they were like
01:31:16:10
when I was standing talking to
them on the street.
01:31:21:11
MICHAEL MATTIS:
People consider that a smile
is like a mask
01:31:23:10
and if you're not smiling,
01:31:25:03
somehow the portrait
is more revealing.
01:31:27:00
So, what are considered
01:31:30:06
the greatest portraits
in photography, think about it,
01:31:31:29
very few involve smiles.
01:31:34:20
They involve direct
psychological probing
01:31:37:11
and usually that means
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
that you don't have
01:31:39:13
the mask of the smile
on your face.
01:31:44:01
REX HARRAL:
My aunt, mother's sister,
her granddaughter said,
01:31:45:22
"Well, Grandma,
none of you smiling."
01:31:47:25
And she said, "We didn't have
anything to smile about."
01:31:50:04
JIM ADCOX:
# Down the road from me,
Melva and Jim Adcox
there's a big hollow tree #
FOLK MUSICIANS
01:31:53:19
# Where I laid down
a dollar or two #
01:31:56:16
# Go 'round the bend
and you come back again #
01:31:59:13
# There's a jug of
that good old mountain dew #
01:32:03:11
# They call it that good old
mountain dew, dew, dew #
01:32:06:10
# And them that refuse it
are few #
01:32:09:05
# I'll hush up my mug
if you fill up my jog #
01:32:13:20
# With good old mountain dew #
Cotton, corn and hay
01:32:16:13
REX HARRAL:
Now, those Depression days,
they was terrible.
01:32:18:03
There's no joke about it
up there.
01:32:19:23
But everybody in this country
grew cotton then.
01:32:22:13
It's the cotton, corn and hay.
01:32:24:04
I hoed cotton 10 hours for 75¢.
01:32:26:21
Not 75¢ an hour,
but 75¢ for 10 hours.
01:32:30:18
And I worked three days of that
01:32:32:01
and bought me
a pair of slippers.
01:32:33:07
Now, that's one of
my stories now.
01:32:40:10
MICKEY BARNETT:
Here is a poor neighbourhood of
The United States of America,
01:32:44:03
particularly the south.
Here are Depression people.
01:32:47:10
Here are people
who work for a living.
01:32:49:27
Here is the product of the
Depression in a poor, poor area.
01:32:54:01
And Mike Disfarmer
has been able to capture it.
01:32:57:22
This look about these natives,
01:33:00:12
something that's
so fundamental and real
01:33:03:23
about this particular
group of people
01:33:07:15
in this particular
geographical area
01:33:09:09
in response to the hardships
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
of the Depression.
01:33:15:12
We didn't even know
there was a depression.
01:33:16:24
Not one thing changed in our
daily lives that let us know
01:33:21:10
there ever was any depression
to react to.
01:33:23:19
And the very notion that these
people in these pictures
01:33:27:26
are showing the hardships
of the Depression
01:33:30:24
is downright funny and it's
still funny to me to this day.
01:33:33:21
Because they didn't know
there was one.
01:33:35:15
CHARLOTTE LACEY:
I think everybody was poor
but we didn't know it.
01:33:37:29
I lived on a farm.
We grew our food.
01:33:42:08
We had milk from our cows
and pork from our hogs.
01:33:46:27
And so, we were happy,
I thought.
01:33:51:27
But then our pictures
that we made showed this sadness
01:33:56:27
that some people think
that we were experiencing.
01:34:01:29
But as I say,
we didn't know that.
01:34:05:22
TOM OLMSTEAD:
Everybody just kind of
helped each other exist.
01:34:10:14
I mean, you know, if a man
needed a shirt on his back,
01:34:15:02
he'd probably
walk down the street
01:34:16:21
and somebody'd offer him one.
01:34:19:12
(Music)
01:34:25:26
JIM ADCOX:
# Going downtown,
going downtown #
01:34:29:01
# Going down, leaving,
till they carry me back again #
01:34:32:29
# Going downtown,
going downtown #
01:34:34:25
# Going down, leaving,
till they carry me back again #
01:34:43:17
EDWYNN HOUK:
I don't have
much experience myself
01:34:46:02
with what would be called
Edwynn Houk
anonymous photographs
EDWYNN HOUK GALLERY, NEW YORK
01:34:48:21
or photographs
from flea markets.
01:34:51:13
We don't handle that sort of
thing in the gallery.
01:34:54:18
So, the clients that
we deal with are really people
01:34:57:05
who are trying to collect
important artists
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:34:59:13
or art of the 20th Century,
in our case.
01:35:03:02
And the reason they would
be looking at Disfarmer
01:35:04:26
is they put him in that ranking.
01:35:06:19
CARL SANDLER:
Well, I had been aware
of Disfarmer photographs
01:35:08:16
for many years. I couldn't tell
Carl Sandler
you-- But not the vintage ones.
PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTOR
01:35:12:11
I, like everyone else,
had always been told by dealers,
01:35:16:02
"Oh, there are no vintages ones.
They don't exist."
01:35:18:04
At one point, I heard that
there were vintage prints.
01:35:21:04
And that's when I went
and I said, "I love this work.
01:35:24:15
"Let's find some vintage prints
and buy them up
01:35:27:08
"and begin to see
what's good and what's not good
01:35:29:24
and start to build
a collection."
01:35:31:24
STEPHEN BULGER:
When people first heard that
there were going to be
01:35:33:17
these vintage Disfarmer prints,
we all flocked to New York
01:35:37:13
just to see these things
because that--
01:35:39:09
I mean, in terms of
causing an excitement,
01:35:41:09
it was really quite remarkable
when, you know,
01:35:44:02
people were on the phone to
each other like dealers, saying,
01:35:46:10
you know, "Have you heard
what Houk's going to put on?"
01:35:48:07
And it's this exhibition of,
like, vintage Disfarmer prints.
01:35:50:19
Everyone was like, "Where the
hell did he get those?"
01:35:53:09
And then it was, like,
all these different,
01:35:55:07
"Well, Michael Mattis had been
going out and buying these."
01:35:57:09
People were like, "Well, yeah,
it would have to be Mattis
01:35:59:09
to think of
something like that."
01:36:00:20
Most of us had
a fair bit of shock,
01:36:02:25
you know, looking at
these great pictures.
01:36:04:29
In your mind, you're thinking,
01:36:07:23
"Yeah, I'd love to
own one of these."
01:36:09:08
And then you go to
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
the price book
01:36:11:04
and either it had been sold
or it was, like, $20,000.
01:36:14:28
HOWARD GREENBERG:
Nobody knew what the price
Howard Greenberg
should be of a vintage Disfarmer
HOWARD GREENBERG GALLERY,
01:36:18:06
because there had been
NEW YORK
absolutely no marketing
01:36:20:11
of those prints prior.
01:36:22:04
And I thought it was high but
they sold prints at that price.
01:36:26:09
So, evidently, there were
enough people out there
01:36:28:13
who believed that was
the correct value
01:36:29:25
and they bought them
at that value.
01:36:31:18
Therefore, I think that
those numbers were established.
01:36:38:19
PETER MILLER:
Originally, when I first had
Modern vs. Vintage
the glass negatives,
01:36:41:07
I was making prints myself.
I love the process of printing.
01:36:44:15
But then, as time passed,
01:36:47:03
I became less interested
in photography
01:36:49:26
so I lent the negatives to
a gallery in New York.
01:36:53:08
And they had a printer
Ira Mandelbaum
who really had a feel
PHOTOGRAPHER & PRINTER
01:36:58:08
for how to print the negatives.
01:37:01:04
IRA MANDELBAUM:
One of the things
that I've always felt
01:37:03:22
about the relationship of
a printer to a photographer
01:37:07:02
is that it's very similar
to a composer and a conductor.
01:37:11:22
A composer creates the music
01:37:15:05
but the conductor interprets it.
01:37:20:05
It took me a while
to appreciate Disfarmer
01:37:24:21
because of all the problems
in printing it.
01:37:27:20
They were a headache, really,
01:37:30:29
especially on
first acquaintance.
01:37:33:16
And that's what dominated
my thinking about them
01:37:38:07
for several years, until I,
actually, I think, in one sense,
01:37:43:07
got to appreciate them
as prints
01:37:48:00
before I really got to
appreciate them as portraits.
01:37:53:00
His photographs are beautiful.
01:37:57:25
And they bring out everything
01:38:01:29
you could possibly want
to bring out in the subject.
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:38:05:10
But in truth, they really need
to be enlarged
01:38:10:10
because it brings out
so much more in the negative
01:38:15:10
that you don't really see
in small size.
01:38:19:10
PETER MILLER:
All of a sudden,
you can start seeing things
01:38:21:20
that you didn't see before.
01:38:23:12
You can see tick bites.
01:38:27:07
Kids got a bad face on and you
look and he's got tick bites.
01:38:29:07
Of course he's grouchy.
01:38:31:09
You can see a bandage
on a woman's legs.
01:38:34:18
IRA MANDELBAUM:
Blowing them up enhances
and changes to photographs.
01:38:41:07
And, umm, since I was involved
in printing these photographs
01:38:46:07
from the very earliest time,
01:38:50:25
I tend to think of these
photographs,
01:38:53:06
and the way I printed them,
as an interpretation
01:38:56:29
and the interpretation
of these photographs.
01:39:01:14
I have something to remark
on my gravestone.
01:39:06:11
"He helped bring Disfarmer
to the public."
01:39:10:14
HAVA GUREVICH:
I don't have the mentality
of a collector
01:39:12:17
or the need to own the original
when, in a lot of cases,
01:39:16:05
the enlargements, you can see
them better. They're crisper.
01:39:19:10
The contrast is there.
Everything is great.
01:39:22:03
And, in many ways,
they're more accessible.
01:39:25:18
But there's something about
the originals.
01:39:29:02
Why they'll always be
more valuable is because
01:39:31:23
Disfarmer was such
an interesting personality.
01:39:36:23
Like, a little bit
of his personality
01:39:39:20
is in every one
of these actual objects.
01:39:41:28
And, I think, because of that,
especially for a collector,
01:39:46:19
that's always going to be
more valuable
01:39:49:18
than a bigger,
more beautiful enlargement.
01:39:53:07
Disfarmer was a pure artist.
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:39:57:13
Maybe he didn't expect
that one day
01:40:01:24
they will be hanging in
a rich collector's home
01:40:04:22
because I don't think
that concept existed to him.
01:40:08:00
TOBA TUCKER:
That's the mystery of Disfarmer.
01:40:12:19
I mean, you know,
we can talk forever,
01:40:14:10
a million people
can give their opinions,
01:40:16:19
we'll never know.
The man is gone.
01:40:20:29
MAIA-MARI SUTNIK:
It's just part of
the mystique in art.
01:40:24:10
I think it's good we have
a little bit of mystique in art.
01:40:26:28
Some things
should never be answered.
01:40:28:23
The black line should never
be resolved and answered.
01:40:31:04
I'm disappointed if
it does get answered.
01:40:36:02
IRA MANDELBAUM:
Those particular photographs
The black line
violate, in a sense,
01:40:38:08
one of the primary rules
of photography.
01:40:43:15
You don't have things
growing out of people's heads
01:40:45:20
when you photograph them.
And he does.
01:40:49:02
He has a black line coming
straight out of people's heads
01:40:51:23
when he photographs them.
01:40:54:20
TOBA TUCKER:
I do have a theory about this,
and it's simply a theory.
01:40:57:10
And that is that Mike Disfarmer
didn't really care.
01:41:00:23
My feeling is that he basically
used a black background.
01:41:05:07
And if you look at some of the
old photographs of his studio,
01:41:09:09
that black background
has a bar on the bottom,
01:41:12:12
which means he could have moved
it left or right or whatever.
01:41:16:09
And I feel that the reason
01:41:18:14
he may have slid over
this white background
01:41:22:27
is on a day when
the light wasn't that good
01:41:24:12
and that gave him
more natural light.
01:41:26:19
And if there was
a black tape there,
01:41:28:19
it was because he had
two pieces of white whatever
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:41:30:13
and he taped them together.
01:41:33:14
MAIA-MARI SUTNIK:
Who was making white tape
in those days?
01:41:35:23
This is new, I mean,
colour tape.
01:41:37:17
So, black tape
is what they would have had.
01:41:39:16
TOBA TUCKER:
I don't think he paid attention.
01:41:41:16
This is not a meticulous man.
01:41:44:14
This is not a man
who paid attention
01:41:46:26
to those kind of details.
01:41:50:01
IRA MANDELBAUM:
Yeah, it's a paradox.
It is a paradox.
01:41:52:13
'Cause I don't feel about him
as if he cared.
01:41:56:19
And yet, you look at
the photographs
01:42:00:05
and you get the feeling
that he did.
01:42:03:01
Because how could he
have made those photographs
01:42:04:16
if he didn't care?
01:42:06:29
MAIA-MARI SUTNIK:
Did he consciously want
to have a black line?
01:42:11:05
STEPHEN BULGER:
I don't know.
01:42:12:17
Like, it's ingenious
when you look at it
01:42:13:29
because, in terms of
what that added
01:42:16:29
to an otherwise completely
mundane background,
01:42:21:21
was this great visual device.
01:42:24:19
MAIA-MARI SUTNIK:
It works in a graphic element.
01:42:26:06
It breaks up that image
01:42:27:18
in a very strange kind of
a geometric way.
01:42:31:00
STEPHEN BULGER:
Everything seems to
play off that black line.
01:42:33:00
And how he got the idea of--
01:42:34:26
I don't know if it just
ended up there accidentally
01:42:36:19
or if he did see a Mondrian
somewhere and he thought,
01:42:40:21
"Oh, isn't that interesting."
01:42:42:13
Like, it's because we don't
know anything about Disfarmer.
01:42:44:26
So, it's hard to say
how we came up with that.
01:42:46:10
But it's ingenious
when you look at it.
01:42:48:08
MAIA-MARI SUTNIK:
I think that were making
probably too much
01:42:49:25
out of the black line.
01:42:50:28
But thank goodness it's there
01:42:52:11
because it makes the pictures
more interesting.
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:43:00:12
CARL SANDLER:
Why would I want
Disfarmer's photographs
01:43:02:23
hanging all over my wall?
01:43:04:05
And sometimes, people come over
to my house and they might say,
01:43:06:10
"Oh, is this your family?"
01:43:07:23
But yet, anyone who has an eye
can look at them
01:43:10:08
and in about three minutes say
there's something special here.
01:43:15:08
He chose the moment when he was
ready to take the photograph.
01:43:20:08
And I think, what happened
was that, in fact,
01:43:22:05
he had a lot of unhappy sitters.
01:43:24:13
And one example is I have
this one great photograph
01:43:27:04
where this woman...
01:43:29:14
In fact, she's so unhappy that
she cut down her own photograph.
01:43:33:23
And the reason I know that
is because,
01:43:36:16
on the back of the photograph,
we have some writing from her
01:43:38:12
about the process
of having her photograph taken.
01:43:41:26
"Is no good. He took it
before I knew it.
01:43:45:28
"Was looking at mom.
Tear it up if you want to.
01:43:49:26
Charles was scared."
01:43:52:18
If you were a mother
01:43:53:26
and you wanted to take
a photograph of your son,
01:43:55:21
you want it to be about you and
your son. It's a portrait.
01:43:59:11
But Disfarmer
wasn't really interested
01:44:02:00
in taking intimate portraits.
01:44:03:00
He was interested in realizing,
I think,
01:44:04:19
his own vision of what he wanted
the photograph to be like.
01:44:09:19
And I think that the people
in the community, their role,
01:44:11:26
in respect to Mike Disfarmer,
01:44:13:12
was they allowed themselves
to be manipulated.
01:44:16:20
I mean, it's one thing to say,
"He caught me off guard once."
01:44:19:04
But it's another thing to say,
"And then I sent my mother
01:44:20:15
and my father and my kids
and I went back every year."
01:44:23:23
I think that there was
some fascination
01:44:25:18
with this very
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
oddball character.
01:44:28:15
And there was some fascination,
conscious or unconscious,
01:44:32:19
with playing their role
in whatever that theatre was.
01:44:36:23
HAVA GUREVICH:
When I got to Heber Springs,
01:44:38:19
what I wanted to do
is find people
01:44:41:17
who still remember being
photographed and interview them
01:44:44:23
and try to get
a bigger picture of who he was.
01:44:47:10
But when I actually asked them,
you know, "What was he like?"
01:44:51:18
I heard the same thing
from everybody.
01:44:55:06
It seemed the people that were
probably very young kids
01:44:59:28
when Disfarmer was still alive,
01:45:02:12
all kind of remembered the same
details about Disfarmer.
01:45:07:09
And that's when I realized
that they've created
01:45:10:29
their own cultural mythology
about who he was.
01:45:13:01
And beyond that,
I couldn't find anything else.
01:45:15:24
DAN HURLIN:
The thing that was
the most illuminating
01:45:17:13
about my time in Heber Springs
01:45:18:29
was how none of it
was illuminating.
01:45:22:19
Nobody had anything to say
about him.
01:45:24:22
Nobody knew anything about him.
He was just a complete mystery.
01:45:28:16
And that is fascinating to me.
01:45:30:16
HAVA GUREVICH:
He's forever going to be
a mystery because,
01:45:33:04
until somebody from New York or
from the art world came there,
01:45:36:26
asking questions
about Disfarmer,
01:45:39:10
I don't think anybody there
ever gave it a second thought.
01:45:43:19
JULIA SCULLY:
You know,
when I went down there,
01:45:45:07
there was no value to Disfarmer.
01:45:47:27
They weren't worth a nickel,
essentially.
01:45:49:25
So, nobody had
any reason to claim
01:45:53:20
they had some
special relationship to him.
01:45:58:19
HAVA GUREVICH:
They want to tell you something
01:46:00:07
and so then they retell
this collective memory
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:46:03:06
that they all have
of this crazy guy
01:46:06:11
who now they learned
was actually a genius.
01:46:10:14
(Music)
01:46:20:14
CHOIR:
# I know #
01:46:22:06
# My saviour #
01:46:24:16
# Is leading
each step of the way #
01:46:29:02
# I know #
01:46:30:13
# He will guide me #
01:46:32:19
# And I will be
in love when I pray #
01:46:36:12
# I know #
01:46:38:12
# He will keep me #
01:46:40:17
# Till this life I lay down #
01:46:45:02
# Then he will take me
to heaven #
01:46:49:21
# And give me a robe and crown #
01:46:57:03
TOM OLMSTEAD:
Mike probably died of
The death of Disfarmer
maybe a heart attack.
01:47:00:29
But he was found dead,
in his studio,
01:47:04:24
with the rats running around
and cans of food opened
01:47:08:12
and just an awful mess.
01:47:12:09
I estimated that he'd been dead
probably about five days.
01:47:17:05
We, Dad and I, we received him
01:47:19:00
and brought him to the
funeral home and prepared him
01:47:22:21
and knew that this was going to
be another kind of a donation.
01:47:26:21
We did a number of those
back years ago.
01:47:30:20
My dad and I were sitting
having breakfast
01:47:32:11
about, I don't know,
about a month later.
01:47:34:10
Dad says, "Tom, you know,
01:47:37:16
one thing we didn't
do for Mike."
01:47:40:15
I said, "Oh, what's that?"
01:47:42:07
He says, "Well, he doesn't
have a marker at his grave."
01:47:46:13
I says, "Well, so what? What are
you going to do about that?
01:47:48:23
There's a lot of graves
don't have markers at 'em."
01:47:51:06
And he says, "I think
he ought to have one."
01:47:53:28
I says,
"Well, so, order him one."
01:47:57:05
So, Dad ordered him
a nice little granite marker,
01:48:01:01
you know, name and dates on it
and everything.
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
01:48:03:12
And it's still over there.
01:48:05:20
MICKEY BARNETT:
Disfarmer's part of us.
There's no question about that.
01:48:08:10
Disfarmer has become part of
the community. No doubt.
01:48:12:04
We wouldn't had this stuff
out here for two years
01:48:14:14
if that weren't true.
01:48:15:22
Were the Cleburne Country
historical society
01:48:18:16
and we're dealing in this room,
for the last two years,
01:48:23:16
with a phenomenon that's only
been a reality since 2004
01:48:27:01
when somebody learned that the
pictures were worth big bucks.
01:48:32:01
CHARLOTTE LACEY:
We have wondered why
all of you people though
01:48:34:03
are so intrigued
with all of this.
01:48:37:15
Why have people been so curious
01:48:41:10
to come from Canada, here,
01:48:44:18
to study this
and find out about it?
01:48:48:01
We're curious as to why
y'all are so curious.
01:48:51:27
MICHAEL MATTIS:
Well, the art world has this way
01:48:54:07
of focusing, in the end,
on quality.
01:48:56:28
And so, you know,
the cream rises.
01:48:59:01
And so, it took many years
in Disfarmer's case, you know,
01:49:02:20
50 years after his death for him
to really have his place
01:49:05:20
on the pantheon of the art
markets. But he's there.
01:49:09:20
The cream has risen
because he really is
01:49:11:27
one of the great portraitists
in history.
01:49:14:14
TOM OLMSTEAD:
They're the people as they were.
01:49:17:22
And if it were today,
01:49:20:17
it would be impossible
to do that, I think.
01:49:23:10
I don't think
you could ever repeat
01:49:25:03
what Mike Meyers Disfarmer did.
01:49:28:04
JULIA SCULLY:
These pictures have been shown
in Europe, in Germany, England,
01:49:33:04
there was a big retrospective
done in Sweden. It's universal.
01:49:38:04
No matter who it is and no
matter what age they are,
01:49:40:00
what culture,
they see themselves,
01:49:43:28
they see a reflection
TIME CODE SPEAKER SPOKEN TEXT
TITLE CARD . . . . .
of humanity.
01:49:46:05
And that's the greatness
of the photographs.
01:49:48:27
PETER MILLER:
The point is that
they are universal,
01:49:50:15
they bring back a time,
01:49:53:10
they have
an immediate poignancy.
01:49:55:24
And, you know, whether people
made money on them,
01:49:59:00
whether people bought and sold
them, it doesn't matter.
01:50:01:03
They're just wonderful pictures.
01:50:03:19
TOM OLMSTEAD:
People come here
and do what I'm doing right now.
01:50:06:23
They stand here at his graveside
and stop and think,
01:50:10:17
"Hey, that man took
my grandfather's picture.
01:50:17:16
And we've got it.
And it's one of a kind."
01:50:22:16
He's still famous here
and always will be.
01:50:26:10
Fact of the matter is,
there ought to be
01:50:27:25
some sort of a monument put up
in his memory, somewhere.
01:50:31:16
You know, "The one and only:
Mike Meyers Disfarmer."
01:50:35:28
I believe I'll go work on that.
I can get that done.
01:50:38:27
(Chuckling)
01:50:49:03
MELVA ADCOX:
Let me do "Amazing Grace" first
A film by Martin Lavut for Volker Seding,
and then--
photographer, 1943-2007
01:50:51:05
JIM ADCOX:
All right, "Amazing Grace."
01:50:57:14
# Amazing grace #
01:51:02:16
# How sweet #
01:51:05:16
# The sound #
01:51:08:09
# That saved #
01:51:11:00
# A wretch #
01:51:13:15
# Like me #
01:51:17:29
# I once #
01:51:20:29
# Was lost #
01:51:24:00
# But now #
01:51:26:29
# Am found #
01:51:29:29
# Was blind #
01:51:32:29
# But now #
01:51:35:29
# I see #
01:51:38:29
(Music)
© 2019 Journeyman Pictures
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