At the Viaduct Gallery of the newly relocated Des Moines Social Club, a series of photographs by Marji Guyler-Alaniz display a unique look at women in agriculture. These photos are part of the FarmHer project, which aims to change common perceptions of what a farmer looks like. Art Under Your Nose spoke with Marji Guyler-Alaniz about her project.
Photo: Marji Guyler-Alaniz.
Marji Guyler-Alaniz is from Webster City, Iowa. Although she is not a farmer herself, her grandparents were and she grew up in the country. She attended Grand View University and graduated with a degree in graphic journalism and a photography minor. She later attended Drake University, where she received her M.B.A. After working in the corporate world for 11 years, she decided to try something new. Guyler-Alaniz currently resides in Urbandale.
Where did you get the inspiration for the FarmHer project?
Right after I quit my job, the 2013 Super Bowl was on. There was a truck commercial on and it was all these images-beautiful, absolutely gorgeous images of farmers set to a speech by Paul Harvey called God Made a Farmer. At the time, when I saw it live, I didn’t think a thing of it because it was just the way agriculture was always depicted. It was all men. I think there was one woman’s face you could actually see and a few others in the background or to the side. A few weeks later I read an article in the Des Moines Register that pointed out that there was a serious lack of women shown in that commercial. At that time, the article pointed out that 30% of farm operators in the US are women. I read that number and I was a little shocked that my image in my mind, that perception of what a farmer looks like and probably everyone else’s is so out of whack. There’s this huge group of women that I felt like needed to be shown. It was as simple as I read that article, then the very next night I woke my husband up in the middle of the night and said, “I figured out what it is I’m going to do here with the next part of my life and that’s photographing women in agriculture to hopefully update the image of agriculture a little bit and change a mind or two about what a farmer looks like.”
How did you become interested in photography?
I’ve always loved photography. When I was a little kid I had a 110 film camera. I would shoot on that as much as I could. I took some classes in high school and fell in love with it even more, so it was my minor at Grand View. I really wanted to do it as a career but I couldn’t figure out a way to make a living out of it. I was 21 when I got out of college, I had student loans and I was like, “Well, I need a job with steady insurance and steady income.” I didn’t pursue a career in photography at that time but I’ve always done it on the side even during those 11 years that I worked in the corporate world. I’ve always taken pictures of friends, family and life, so it’s always been there, it just hasn’t always been front and center like it is now.
What is the most unique experience you’ve had while shooting these photos?
I have to say, there’s always something interesting and different when you’re going onto a farm. There’s animals involved, there’s livestock, there’s various people. It’s always an experience. One of the women I took photos of was riding a horse and I photographed her while I was on horseback also so that was a pretty interesting experience for me. I always tell people that I think about 95% of [those] pictures were blurry because I shoot my pictures from a documentary perspective so I want to show [people] while they’re working. I got there and she was like, “Well if you’re going to show us driving these cattle, we’re going to ride a horse for 100 acres so you’re going to have to get on a horse and come with us.” and so I was like, “Okay, I got this!”
What is your favorite part about being a photographer?
My favorite thing is that you can tell a story through images. You have the power to show somebody something totally unique and different just through an image and images change the way that we all think. Without knowing anything about the women that I photograph you would look at them and go, “These women are part of agriculture.” It has the ability to set your mind in a certain way and that’s so powerful.
The most challenging?
For me personally, one of the most challenging things is (with FarmHer at least) the way that I shoot is I oftentimes am in and out of various different lighting. When you’re doing it from a documentary perspective you just have to roll with it. On the technical side of things…Making sure that the images are there, that you are able to capture what you see and it still turns out to be a good image. There’s a lot of pictures I have where it shows something amazing but the lighting or some sort of condition was such that I couldn’t capture it accurately. I’ve gotten better at it but it’s always a challenge to make sure that you do it justice in a way that it comes through as a high quality image in the end.
What advice would you give to someone pursuing photography/art?
As a career? It’s tough. This is going to sound very cliché but it’s true: If you come up with something that matters to you, if you have a project or a cause that you want to follow and you love it, then it will become what you need it to be. I can’t say it’ll always make you money. FarmHer does not make big money, but I love it and it’s been the most rewarding experience that I’ve had in my life to this point, professionally. If you have a passion for something, follow it. You won’t ever go wrong by following it and it may not always be the way that you planned it but it’ll lead you down a path that will be good for you.
Exhibit photos: Sydney Price
The exhibition at the Social Club will run through November 2 and can be visited at 900 Mulberry St. downtown. Hours are as follows:
Mon-Fri: 10 am-6 pm
Sat: 10 am-5 pm
Sun: 12 pm-6 pm
Check it out,