Making a Connection at Comfort Farms
It was suggested to me, a sometimes filmmaker, that both a man and a place down in Milledgeville Georgia were worthy subjects for a documentary. I’d been to Milledgeville once before to visit Andalusia, the family farm of Flannery O’Connor—the famed writer of magnificent essays and fiction. This time the place was Comfort Farms, and the man was Jon Jackson, an army ranger, and veteran who spent time in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s founder of STAG Vets and Comfort Farms, a place where farming and therapy come together, a place to grow quality food, support the local economy, and help veterans with PTSD get back on their feet — a place to, as Jon says, give veterans the opportunity to serve again.
I agreed that a documentary was a good idea, if for no other reason than to help promote such an interesting place. In the meantime, I got a call about doing photos to accompany an article for the blog. So I headed down to Milledgeville to make pictures and to do a little preliminary research and interviewing for the documentary.
When I was talking to Jon, he said two things in particular that really stuck with me. One, and I’m paraphrasing them both, was that talk about veterans often suggested pity for the pitiful. And the other was that farming was, in a way, a analogue to war. That working a farm is kind of like trading in battle with a human enemy for battle with Mother Nature — a rugged, powerful thing, not a vocation for the faint of heart or pitiful. So I wanted to capture the essence of those things in the photographs — Jon in the midst of it all, surrounded by wilderness — nature and beast, finding some sense of control over the situation rather than letting the situation totally control him. The wiry vertical trees exploding up in the background, the whole of the composition, in my mind, conveys a sense of order in the midst of what could easily be chaos. Which is kind of the essence of what goes on down there. Of course there’s only so much we can control about Mother Nature, but we can, to varying degrees, control how we react to and approach it.
For the photo I used a Canon 5d ii with 24-70 mm lens fairly wide. I set up one Speedlight camera right, modified with a deep octabox. I used the sun for a backlight. I spent about an hour in Photoshop. And pigs, well… being pigs, aren’t the easiest animals to direct. So a lot of waiting went on, as I wanted to get a shot with one of the pigs looking forward. One of them finally did and we captured an image that I think we both felt was worth the wait.