• Image of Limited Edition Prints by James R. Southard
  • Image of Limited Edition Prints by James R. Southard
  • Image of Limited Edition Prints by James R. Southard

Individual prints from James R. Southard's two photographic series, 'The Kentuckian' and 'Why Buy the Cow'. Each print comes in a protective plastic sleeve with further information about the print on the back. Southard's 'Why Buy the Cow' exhibition was on view at Institute 193 October 7 - November 14, 2020.

James R. Southard: Why Buy the Cow

For the past few years, James R. Southard has spent many of his summers in Johnson, Vermont documenting the daily life of small-scale dairy farmers. The photographs in this exhibition focus on the Rankin Family and tell a familiar story about the collapse of the dairy industry in the region: large, automated, and heavily-mechanized operations systematically undercut local farms, leading to the closure of the majority of artisanal operations. In the process, many multigenerational dairy farms are forced to sell their land at a loss, if selling is at all possible, transforming the regional geography of land and agricultural stewardship. This has also heavily contributed to the raise in suicide rates of dairy farmers in the region.

Southard’s photographic style walks a fine line between documentary and staged photography. Both rooted in longstanding tradition, each discipline utilizes a different approach to storytelling: in a staged photograph, the photographer intentionally sets the scene to tell a preconceived narrative, where documentary photography often relies on capturing an unmanipulated moment in time. By utilizing a mixture of straight documentary photography and staged portraits, Southard poignantly suspends his subjects in a magical reality. He uses his camera to tell a story through events he witnessed, that are essential to the livelihood of these farmers, offering the viewer a glimpse into their disappearing way of life.

James R. Southard: The Kentuckian

"My series, The Kentuckian, started with me documenting farmers of all kinds i.e. organic, conventional, small scale and large. Though the series is ongoing, It started in the summer of 2020 when I was invited by the Maine Farmland Trust to attend a virtual art residency. What was originally to be a photo series about Maine farmers, has changed due to covid so that I could work in Kentucky. I instead started this series documenting farmers from each county in Kentucky. My goal was to create a photography series that reflected the issues and concerns of agriculture in each county. In that summer and fall, I documented a wide variety of farms in 26 different counties. The subjects have ranged from small vegetable farmers in eastern Kentucky all the way to large scale cattle farmers in western Kentucky. I have learned that each county deals with a variety of issues ranging from urban expansions to the raising costs of labor. Since then, I have been recruited to join the Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project to expand my work to not only include farmers, but all kentuckians. I have taken on this challenge and am photographing Kentuckians of all kinds. While coming into its third year, the project got more support from the LexArts and the University of Kentucky’s Special Collections as all the images will now be archived in their collection for all to see and use.

Over the years, I have been imbedding myself into a variety of communities. Either it be ranchers and miners in Wyoming, dairy farmers of northern Vermont, artisans of Cuba or even musicians in South Korea, I have been interested in finding ways of depicting communities by getting to the source of what makes them unique and what are the issues they are dealing with. Whether it be changing agriculture crops, housing pricing, government restriction of travel or even land rights, I am eager to give my subjects the chance to control the narrative of each of my work. This most recent series in Kentucky is a unique experience to me, as I am traveling to some of the same counties my family grew up in. Every family I meet, I feel some connection not only to their land and/or community, but also their history as I share it myself."

James R. Southard is a Senior Lecturer of Photography at the University of Kentucky. His photography concerns agricultural communities in rural Kentucky, Wyoming, Maine, and Vermont. He is currently photographing farmers across Kentucky through a virtual residency with the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center in Belfast, Maine. Southard’s project in Vermont Exhibition was made possible by help from The Food Connection, Great Meadows Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, and the School of Art and Visual Studies at the University of Kentucky. Proceeds from this exhibition will be equally shared and donated to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

Edition of 50
Dimensions: 7 x 10.5 inches
Archival inkjet prints