Mike Disfarmer is a true American eccentric. Born Mike Meyer, he changed his name to distance himself from both the surrounding farming community of his native Arkansas and from his own kinfolk—claiming that a tornado had accidentally blown him onto the Meyer family farm as a baby. The son of a German-born Union soldier in the heart of the South, Disfarmer was an agnostic from Lutheran stock among the church-going Baptists and Methodists, and remained a confirmed bachelor in a community of large families.
Despite his outsider status, as the resident studio photographer in the tiny town of Heber Springs from 1917–1956, Disfarmer was the ultimate insider, privy to each family’s rites of passage—from first birthdays to high-school graduations, from engagements to anniversaries, from army furloughs to funerals. His studio portraits present the people of the heartland during the turbulent times of the early twentieth century. Disfarmer documented the farm families as they sent their sons to fight World War I, struggled through the Great Depression and returned to battle for World War II. His career concludes with the optimistic 1950s, as his previously somber camera joyfully captures the pairings of bobby-soxed young women and their James Dean–wannabe boyfriends.
Previously, Disfarmer’s work was known only from a cache of glass-plate negatives that had been salvaged from his studio after his death and spanned a fifth of his forty-year career. The culmination of an unprecedented two-year historical reclamation project in which a dedicated team of researchers scoured every family album in every home along every dirt road in Cleburne Count, Disfarmer: The Vintage Prints presents the never-before-seen original vintage prints of the enigmatic photographer throughout his career.
Disfarmer by Photographs by Mike Disfarmer, Texts by Edwynn Houk, Gerd Sander, Richard B. Woo dward, and Michael P. Mattis