Mike Disfarmer, "Freckle Faced Boys", 1939-1946, printed later, gelatin silver print,18x14". Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC.

Mike Disfarmer, “Freckle Faced Boys”, 1939-1946, printed later, gelatin silver print,18×14″. Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC.

Mike Disfarmer

In his hometown of Heber Springs, Arkansas, Mike Disfarmer (1884-1959) maintained a portrait studio in which he photographed members of the local community for small fees. Yet his “penny portraits” were far more than mere keepsake photographs. Employing a stark realism and often lengthy, unnervingly mute sitting sessions, Disfarmer produced a consistent stream of portraits that strip his subjects bare, achieving an uncanny intimacy. His photographs capture the essence of a particular community in a particular time with piercing solemnity and a touching simplicity.

Originally born Mike Meyers, Mike Disfarmer (Heber Springs, AR) was an American photographer and the sixth of seven in a family of German American immigrants. He rejected any association the name Meyer (“meier” means dairy farmer in German) and farming culture by changing his name to “dis”-farmer. Some suggest that it was his desire to break free from his Arkansas roots that led him to pursue a career in photography. Disfarmer taught himself how to shoot and develop his own photographs. His first studio was on the back of his mother’s porch. In the 1930s a tornado swept through Arkansas, destroying his home and his studio, thus forcing Disfarmer to find a new space. He set up a studio on Main Street and became a full time photographer. He was very detail-oriented with the lighting of his photographs and obtaining his ideal photographic environment, it is said that he sometimes took over an hour to even begin shooting. After his death in 1959 his portraits of everyday people in rural Arkansas became regarded as art after a large collection of his negatives were discovered and restored in Heber Springs, Arkansas by Peter Miller in 1970. His work has been exhibited at contemporary galleries several times since then, including, Greg Thompson Fine Art (Little Rock, Arkansas) and Art2Art Circulating Exhibitions (Lindhurst, NY). Disfarmer is also the focus of a documentary directed by Martin Lavut entitled: Disfarmer: A Portrait of America.