A traveling Smithsonian Museum on Main Street (MoMS) show is coming to Oxford in October called Crossroads: Change in Rural America. This exhibit offers towns a chance to look at what happened when America’s rural population became a minority of the country’s population and the ripple effects that occurred.
So what does that mean for the Eastern Shore? Stuart Parnes, president of Oxford Museum, said. “We’re as much an agricultural place as Kansas, but people don’t recognize that. We all spend so much time looking at the water, talking about watermen, watching the log canoes, or sailing. Yet everybody drives by acres and acres of corn and soybeans, and they don’t think about it. So, part of what we wanted to do, was to make sure we all start paying some attention.”
The concept behind MoMS is to send high-quality exhibits to small museums in towns with small populations. Places that usually wouldn’t have the opportunity to participate in a national exhibition program. As part of the program, many events are being organized, including farm tours, retrospectives, and discussions.
It was during one of the planning meetings that Edwin Remsberg’s name came up. Remsberg, an award-winning Maryland photographer, specializes in documenting agriculture and the changing nature of traditional work in a modern economy. Parnes took a look at the photographs and was immediately interested. And here’s the thing. Remsberg is good at what he does because he knows so much about it. He, too, is a farmer raising sheep in Harford County. Working so close also meant that Remsberg has a lot of images of Eastern Shore farmers.
Remsberg said, “I think it’s an important part of being able to relate is that I do it myself, so I can appreciate what everybody’s doing. I see us as a big connected community because everybody’s intertwined with each other, regardless of where they are.”
Remsberg’s career started on his family’s Maryland farm, and through the connections he made in the agricultural community. Using his camera allowed Remsberg to tell their stories, an ability that is still a part of his success. As he has said: For me, the photograph is not an end in itself but rather a tool for transmitting information, telling stories, and educating. Photography is a means to bring these incredibly rich and interesting worlds to people who would not otherwise have such an opportunity. The content and the story is what matters. I am passionate about Maryland. The idea of sense of place is very important to me because I have a long history with Maryland. I believe our sense of place comes not only from our geography around us but from this human geography of who we are and the culture we create. I aim to provide Marylanders with the opportunity to gain a sense of their local identity, giving them something to appreciate and love. The visual experience offers individuals the chance to see themselves as unique but also for a larger culture to see itself as unique.”
This attention to detail has solidified his reputation and success as a photojournalist for the Baltimore Sun and Associated Press, a stock photographer for Getty, and a photographer for 11 books. He’s worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland and has traveled worldwide photographing rural areas. He’s also produced essays on such topics as the war in El Salvador, elections in Haiti, and missionary work in Belize. In 1987 Life Magazine chose his photograph of the Amtrak crash in Chase, Maryland, as one of the “Pictures of the Year” and later, “Pictures of the Decade. More recently, Remsberg can be found conducting workshops in England or Africa, authoring new books, or selling his own apparel brand.
Rooted in the Land: A Tribute to Eastern Shore Farmers—Photographs by Edwin Remsberg is now on exhibit at the Oxford Museum. It’s a show well worth seeing as you realize that Remsberg is telling a story about today’s farmer and, more importantly, the Eastern Shore farmer. Here you’ll find people and places you know. Judy Crow from Crow’s Vineyard cuddling a calf, Matt Taylor of Taylor’s Produce standing in his young field of corn silhouetted against the sun, Emily Jackson from Emily’s Produce cradling a watermelon. Remsberg proudly pointed to a photograph of Ken Ballard of Ballard Meats and Seafood. “I have that tractor, too,” he said.
For Parnes, this tribute to farmers is the perfect start to a thought-provoking Smithsonian show. “Edwin is just kicking this off for us because the show doesn’t get here till October. People will look at these images and see that there are farms everywhere, and all these people are still working on them, and they’re second and third generation farmers.”
Besides people, there are also scenes of farmers’ hands holding wheat or supporting a grapevine. Then there are the perspectives you may never see outside this exhibit. That’s because Remsberg is also an aerial photographer, and he has a lot to show you from the sky. Here you’ll find a mesmerizing look at a watermelon harvest (at Worms farm in Preston) and, in an abstract photograph of dark tracks on a white field, a winter cover crop planting in Kent County.
Remsberg is also sharing one of his rare collections with the Museum: Periodicals that Maryland’s farmers read from before the Civil War into the 1930s. These are filled with technical assistance and farming stories and are illustrated by some of the then best-known artists and photographers.
But it will be the farmers themselves that you’ll remember. Yes, they are photographed in their lush and frequently colorful environment, but the intimate focus is on the individual. And there is a reason. “I’m not showing you a window of farmers. What I’m doing is holding up a mirror for them. I want them to be the people who get the most out of the picture, and then the rest of the world can see, but I want them to know that they’re cool and interesting. I want to show how proud and diverse these people are and how their workplace is their identity. I want them to be the stars.”
And that they are.
Rooted in the Land: A Tribute to Eastern Shore Farmers—Photographs by Edwin Remsberg is running now through December 16th at the Oxford Museum
Crossroads: Change in Rural America will open on October 29, 2022, and run through December 16, 2022, at the Oxford Museum at St. Paul’s Church.