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Golden moment

Portrait shoot yields a keeper
By Glen Liford, Editor 1/27/2020


Former Tennessee Farmers Cooperative Director Marty Bilderback assists a mama cow with her newborn calf on his farm at Sweetwater in fall 1991.
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As we have been looking for photos for the 75th anniversary

project, we have reviewed many shots from the early days of the

Co-op. But I’ve also been thinking about the pictures I have taken during my tenure with the Co-op. It occurred to me that while these shots don’t seem that old to me, some are approaching 30 years old.

Making these photos has been, and continues to be, one of the best parts of my role here at Co-op and was among the many reasons I was attracted to this career choice in the first place. The photo below of former Tennessee Farmers Cooperative Director Marty Bilderback is one of my favorites of the thousands I have made.

It was taken on Marty’s dairy farm in Monroe County on a gorgeous fall morning in early October of 1991. I was there to make a portrait of Marty for the annual report. I don’t remember what time we met, but I know it was early as I wanted to work in the golden early morning light. I don’t remember if we shot the

portraits first or not. I believe he had to see to the calf first.

I remember following him into the dew-covered field and both of us getting wet up to our knees. I hung back as not to disturb the mama cow and the newborn calf as he carefully maneuvered to pick up the calf to take it to the barn, knowing that mama would follow.

I recognized the background trees and grass as a perfect backdrop for the photos. Marty was lit from the back and side by that gorgeous sunlight and the red Co-op cap I had just supplied for the portrait added a perfect accent. I chose a long lens — I think it was an 80-200 mm or something similar — on the Canon AE1 camera I was using. The longer lens helped me frame the scene more tightly and also compressed the scene, making it appear that Marty, the calf, and the mama were painted against the luminous background. I continued to shoot as Marty scooped the calf up in his arms and carried the little fellow toward the barn, traipsing through the tall pasture with mama at his heels.

It was a special moment, and I felt good about the pictures as I left the farm that morning. Since I was shooting film, I had to wait for the images to be developed to see what I had actually captured. The entire sequence yielded several strong images, including another tighter shot of Marty carrying the calf. But this was by far the winner. It has held up well with time, and it’s one that I’m still proud of today.

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