Southern truck farmers
exhibit comes to Arts Clayton

By Joel Hall


For many years throughout the South, farmers with small plots of land grew fruits and vegetables, and sold them at local markets, or by roadsides from the back of a flatbed truck.

With the spread of commercialized farming, the tradition of truck farming has largely died out.

With a Holga camera and a tape recorder, McDonough-based author and photographer, Perry Dilbeck, traveled throughout the South, cataloging the lives of this dying breed of farmers in his new book, "The Last Harvest."

On Thursday, April 3, Dilbeck will his sign his new book at the Arts Clayton gallery in Jonesboro, and will share a related photography exhibit for display throughout April.

"He has captured an agrarian subject matter that has disappeared," said Peggy Brooks, assistant gallery manager at Arts Clayton. "He dealt with small farmers, who grew the vegetables, threw them on the back of their truck, and sold them to the community. You just don't see that anymore," Dilbeck said.

The approach Dilbeck used to shoot the subjects of "The Last Harvest" differed greatly from the norm. Rather than going through a community, taking pictures, and leaving, he stayed in the community, visiting each subject multiple times before ever taking out his camera.

"I like to get to know the people before I shove a camera in their face," said Dilbeck. He went through thousands of rolls of film and hours of conversations to whittle down the 64 most powerful images, and document the most poignant conversations.

"You can see the wonderful pride and dignity in the farmers' faces and the sense of loss in their eyes," said Dilbeck. "People today just don't have that kind of work ethic. They don't know what it is like to grow their own food for survival and they have never really had to worry about where their next meal is coming from," Dilbeck added.

"He captures the person in his photography, which is sometimes hard to do in black and white," said gallery manager Brooks. She noted the attention to details in one photograph, showing the arthritic hands of a farmer inspecting a crop of collard greens. "He makes you want to know that person and know their history," she said.

Linda Summerlin, executive director of Arts Clayton, said until recently, the Southern Crescent was mostly an agricultural community and many people in the area would be able to appreciate the images.

"I'm looking forward to it because I came from an agricultural background," said Summerlin. "I imagine that a lot of our patrons have the same background."

The book signing for "The Last Harvest" will take place from 5:30-7:30 p.m., on April 3. The photography exhibit will run throughout the month of April, in conjunction with the "In the Garden" exhibit.