Amidst the flashy and sometimes stupid commercials on Super Bowl Sunday 2013, one stood out for its quiet message. "So God Made a Farmer" was a lean, evocative tribute to farmers everywhere. It featured powerful photographs of farm folks going about their daily lives. Color and sepia toned images floated in front of the emotional words and the iconic voice of the late broadcaster Paul Harvey. The two-minute spot struck a chord (I know there was not a dry eye in my living room.) and was the subject of conversation for weeks. "Did you see ... ?"
"So God Made a Farmer" was sponsored by Ram Trucks and featured Case IH farm equipment. It kicked off Ram's "Year of the Farmer" campaign. To build on its success, Ram Trucks and the National Geographic have made the commercial into a book, "The Farmer in All of Us." Like the TV spot, the book hits a lot of nostalgic notes but does so in a way that is not maudlin. At 304 pages, it is weighty but substantive.
Okay, I'm a sucker for good farm photos. And I have an admiration for photographers who take farmers seriously, get to know them and portray them as people instead of cliches. When Ram Trucks chose ten photographers to work on the commercial, they chose well. One -- William Albert Allard -- is a god among photographers working in the American West. His photos alone would make the book worthwhile.
The ten professionals spent three weeks on family farms in California, New Mexico, Montana, Mississippi and Florida. I wish they had spent some time in the Midwest and the Great Plains. The Northeast and Northwest would have been fertile territories, too. As it was, they produced more than 100,000 images, enough to give the photo editors at National Geographic plenty of solid choices.
What they chose are potent images of harvests, plantings and round ups. There are wide vistas and aerials that hold the eye. There are many strong faces and weathered hands. One close up of a New Mexico rancher's folded hands shows blackened fingers, split nails and years of hard work. These are photos of people who labor outdoors in all seasons. They are also family people and religious people and people who love what they do.
Not much copy accompanies the photos and not much is needed. Paul Harvey's original essay -- written in 1986 -- appears. Each of seven chapters has a one-page intro. There are a few quotes from farmers. But the idea of the book is to let the images tell the story. And they do so beautifully.
The hard cover book is available for $45 at www.ramtrucks.com/outfitter. A portion of the proceeds (a minimum of $25,000) goes to the FFA.
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