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The Process

The Sound

When I first began recording the interviews used in this project, I was unsure exactly how I would be using the audio other than as research material for a written assignment I was working on. Despite my experience working on oral history projects in the past, I approached these interviews differently. A rookie mistake.

On the first day out in the field, at Wishingstone Farm in Little Compton, I ventured out with only half the equipment I needed. I left behind the  external microphone, wind-guard, and set of headphones that I would soon learn are crucial tools for recording in the field. Unfamiliar with the difficulties of editing out my own commentary, I chatted away with farmers Liz Peckham and Skip Paul rendering unusable some of their most interesting comments. But the wind was the real culprit and because of it much of the interview was simply unusable for publication–even as an example of what not to do.

My second attempt, at Simmons Farm in Middletown, was better. I had an external microphone but no headphones and so when Brian and Karla Simmons’s teen-aged son began his band practice on the front lawn, I didn’t realize quite how much his melodious strains overpowered his parents’ voices. But at least I had learned to hold my tongue, and so Brian and Karla’s stories still managed to come to the forefront.

By the time I made visits to Dame Farm and Watson Farm, my sound recording techniques had undeniably improved. They still weren’t perfect, but they were much better. In both cases, I was armed with headphones and an external microphone.  I managed to sit civilly at the kitchen table of both farmhouses instead of tripping awkwardly after the farmers in their greenhouses.

In retrospect, I realize that all of my interviews should have been conducted in the manner of the last two, which followed more nearly standard procedure for oral history documentation. As thrilling as it was to stand in the middle of barnyard and interview Brian and Karla Simmons, I realize now that my goals would have been more simply met had I visited the barnyard first and saved our interview to the quiet of an indoor space.

The Images
In audio slideshows you have to contend not only with the recorded sound, but also with images. As an amateur photographer developing pride in my work, I thought that this would be the easy part. But after watching the 40 shots of cuddly farm animals in the Simmons Farm story, I realized that even the most ardent animal lover might be left thirsting for a change in imagery. Audio slideshows aren’t only about the quality of the image, but also about the subject matter. Being able to pair relevant photos with compelling audio is what makes the difference between good and great audio slideshows.

For more information about the photographs used for the project, please see our Flickr database.

The Slideshows
In its current incarnation, the Farmer Voices hosts audio slideshows–a combination of picture and sound–in an effort to share the stories of the farmers themselves and to situate their stories within the visual context of the places where they live and farm. The audio for these slideshows are excerpts from longer interviews conducted in conjunction with a separate project on Rhode Island farm heritage. I chose to create audio slideshows for a number of reasons. Foremost, audio slideshows allowed to me to continue to hone my digital photography and to think about new ways of exhibiting my work in this medium. Beyond this though, I am interested in the sounds of the farm and in the sounds of the farmers’ voices and I am especially fond of pairing these sounds with visual clues. As I learned about the process that would be most beneficial to me and to the project, I realized that I could get the best sound quality by interviewing farmers in the quiet of their homes, and I could best capture the visual story of their farms in a series of snapshots. These singular moments of a particular afternoon or evening seemed to to me to speak volumes all on their own and allowed me to offer my particular sense of the place through a medium which I find to be at once a challenge and a comfort.

The Future
Despite my pitfalls and novice mistakes, I hope that these stories can be used as a model for a way to effectively share farmers’ voices in the future. For those of you brave enough to embark on a similar project, a few Helpful Resources