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In his latest book, The Last of the Hill Farms, photographer Richard W. Brown invites us to come with him into the private day-to-day of the people who shaped Vermont’s rugged hill farms. His pictures bring glimpses of everyday life through a lens that seems to compress time, connecting our 21st Century world with a simpler time through familiar landmarks. We travel unpaved roads to visit farms, homes, barns, fields and workspaces that appear more closely linked to the 19th century than today.
These photos were taken 40 years ago, when Brown moved to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The characters and landscapes in these stunning images are recognizable to day – many of the children in the photos are now adults with children of their own, and some have moved away from the area. But many families remain in this corner of the state; they are our neighbors and friends, whose portraits describe their deep roots and long tradition of working the rocky soil.
Tom Slayton, editor emeritus of Vermont Life, writes in the introduction, “These photographs show us a Vermont that is all but extinct – the small farms of upland Vermont that began to fail a century ago, and now are almost completely gone. It was a world shaped by endless cycles of hard physical work, a world that would find the abundance we enjoy today unimaginable, yet a world with its own dignity, rewards, and beauty.” Brown’s photographs have been compared with the work or Walker Evans, whose celebrated images of farmers in Alabama and Georgia chronicled Depression-era rural America.
A selection of the photographs in this books are now on view in the Fairbanks Museum balcony through December 2018. “Richard’s images are a remarkable link to our Victorian roots,” says Adam Kane, executive director of the Fairbanks Museum. “His work transports us to a time that is closer to the era when Franklin Fairbanks first opened the doors to this Museum in 1892. At the same time, the houses, farms, and hill are recognizable – I pass a few of these landmarks every day. And of course, it’s tremendously heartwarming to know that some of the families who opened their homes and welcomed Richard to take pictures are still here today.”