Ninety-four-year-old Charles Bradley has cared for his family’s 450-acre land in Weston, Mo., all his life. “It’s altogether a different situation,” he says of farming as he reflects on the past. “There were many farms up and down the road, but now it’s operated by one fella who has 2,000 to 3,000 acres. Back in the old days, if we had 200 acres we had a lot of ground.” (Michelle Siu)
For more than six decades the Missouri Photo Workshop has challenged photographers to document the changing face of small town America. Over those 66 years, Students have gathered in 46 cities across the state for a rigorous, week-long workshop in photo research, shooting and editing, all guided and overseen by distinguished faculty members, many of whom are today’s leading photo editors and photographers. This year the workshop hosted students and faculty late last month in Platte City, Mo. Students were given a maximum of 400 frames to shoot an entire essay.
One of the distinguished talents to emerge from the workshop was photojournalist Michelle Siu from Toronto. Her series from the workshop, “Twilight on Bradley Farm,” was awarded the Team Eppridge award, led by Washington Post director of photography MaryAnne Golon and Alan Berner, long-time staff photographer at the Seattle Times.
Siu is certainly no stranger to the award circuit, having already distinguished herself as someone to watch by winning the Unicef Photo of the Year award (2014) and Photojournalist of the Year (Canada, 2013) among many prestigious other honors. Siu’s delicate, quiet reportage of a 94-year old farmer in Weston, Mo., and his 93-year old wife chronicled the life of the lone farmer, who still works and tends to his 450 acres of land despite his age and the proliferation of large-scale farms. Charles Bradley, or “Mr. Charles,” and his wife, Mary, were married on March 8, 1941. Despite Mary Bradley’s bouts of dementia, the two continue to live in the home in which Charles was born and to run the farm that has been in the Bradley family since 1883.
Charles clutches a photo that was taken shortly after his wedding, on March 8, 1941, which he and wife Mary say was a very simple ceremony attended by only one best man and a maid-of-honor. Mary Bradley contends that the secret to a good marriage is a good farm. “It’s all I have ever known, and I’ve been happy all my life,” she says. (Michelle Siu) Mary Bradley drifts in and of lucidity frequently. She says she has good days and bad days as her dementia worsens, and she is frequently forgetful. (Michelle Siu) Charles begins his daily ritual when he wakes up at 8 a.m., despite sometimes not getting to bed until after midnight. He is almost never seen working without his overalls and straw hat. He says his hat is “old and ugly and ought to be discarded. It’s been around for too long.” (Michelle Siu) Charles moves slowly searching for a misplaced item. (Michelle Siu) The Bradley family farm is well taken care of, despite some peeling paint. (Michelle Siu) Charles sits in his 1970s truck as his neighbor helps him move manure. His neighbor, who refers to Charles as his “best friend,” regularly helps him with tasks. On his land, Charles breeds 50 cows and grows corn and soybeans. (Michelle Siu) Charles with his neighbor. (Michelle Siu) After putting in an eight-hour day, Charles puts his tractor away. He says: “Most people want to retire. I never wanted to retire. I do as much as I can do as long as I can do it.” (Michelle Siu) Charles washes his hands and cleans his hearing aid. He was born in this home, where he grew up taking bucket showers and living without electricity. (Michelle Siu) Mary makes a wish on a single candle on her birthday cake. The cake was given to her by caregiver Tammy Prisner, who cooks and cleans for the Bradleys seven hours a day, five days a week. Prisner keeps Mary company as she struggles with mood swings and forgetfulness. (Michelle Siu) Charles and Mary Bradley have been married for 73 years. (Michelle Siu) Mary holds onto her great-grandson, Alexander, 7, as he says goodbye to her after a visit. (Michelle Siu) Mary watches Charles work through the front door. She says that what she loves most about a life lived on the farm is the quiet and being surrounded by nature. Because of her dementia, she often repeats herself. One of her favorite refrains is about her husband: “You don’t see him in a rocking chair. He’s not a rocking chair kinda guy.” (Michelle Siu) After a day’s work, Charles heads back to the farmhouse for dinner. It is uncertain who will eventually take over the couple’s farm and continue the family’s legacy. (Michelle Siu) Charles’s boots and overalls reveal the hard work and of a lifetime farmer. (Michelle Siu) Charles heads back to the farmhouse after spending the morning feeding his cattle. (Michelle Siu)
More In Sight Posts:
Stunning aerials of Spanish landscapes in the fall
Living in the shadows: The Australian Aboriginal community in New South Wales
Mount Sinabung eruptions show nature’s awe and chaos