Thursday, May 6, 2010, 7:00 pm
Artist and puppeteer Dan Hurlin usually gets his inspiration for his work from what he describes as “some intriguing scrap from the pages of history - the more obscure or forgotten, the better.” In the case of his most recent production, Disfarmer, a table-top puppetry performance produced live at MASS MoCA on Saturday, May 8, and Sunday May 9, Hurlin was first introduced to the curious life of Mike Disfarmer through a few of his photographs. He explains, “Being introduced to Disfarmer's photographs and learning his enigmatic history, I felt compelled to decode both the images and the man who made them.” On Thursday, May 6 at 7 PM in Club B-10, Hurlin will be joined by local historian Joe Manning for a FREE conversation about the influences of Disfarmer’s photography on Hurlin’s work and Manning’s research with the Lewis Hine Project focusing on the true life stories of several North Adams factory workers who appeared in Hine’s photographs during the same era that Disfarmer was capturing images of his neighbors.
During the conversation at MASS MoCA Hurlin and Manning will discuss how artists and historians are using historic photos to tell a story. Both Hurlin and Manning will also explain why they are interested in the work of Disfarmer and Hine, respectively, and the process of connecting the current generation to these old images.
From 1928 to 1959, the Disfarmer Studio in Heber Springs, Arkansas, was the only photography studio for miles. Farmers from the surrounding county would come to Heber Springs to do their shopping for the week, catch a movie at the Gem movie theater and then line up for the privilege of being insulted and ordered around by curmudgeonly Disfarmer as he worked. When Disfarmer's photographs finally came to light in 1974 (twenty years after his death), the world was stunned. The works are straightforward, unsentimental portraits of rural Americans, living in a rough place, during a hard time, but there is tenderness and a sense of longing that haunts the images. Dan Hurlin's Disfarmer is a piece of puppet theater that examines the challenges and contradictions in the life of an intriguing American hermit and the subtle beauty of the photographs he left behind. Hurlin comments, “I have always been drawn to stories from and about rural America, perhaps as a means of investigating my relationship to my own history, having grown up in a small town in southern New Hampshire. So my attraction to the life and work of a nearly forgotten, Arkansas portrait photographer is a natural. The small-town portrait photographer is a dying breed, and the body of Disfarmer's work documents the vanishing world of rural America with astounding clarity.”
Local author, historian, and freelance journalist Joe Manning has spent the last five years conducting the Lewis Hine Project, a nationwide effort to track down and interview descendants of child laborers who were photographed by Lewis Hine in the early 1900s. Describing his interest in the project, Manning writes, “The children and families depicted in the child labor photographs of Lewis Hine were unwittingly caught in the act of making history, but we know almost nothing about them. The pictures were taken for a noble purpose, but a century later they have become an enormous photo album of the American family. By finding out what happened to some of them, and by revealing the photos to their descendants (most descendants are unaware of them), we are dignifying their lives and the lives of everyone that history has forgotten.” So far, Manning has successfully located and interviewed the descendents of over 175 of the photographed workers.
Funded in part by the Expeditions program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the six New England state arts agencies and the Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund. Produced by MAPP International Productions.