Saturday, April 25, 2009
Pro Bono: Farm Aid
Christine and Owen Masterson provide visual advocacy for sustainable farming.
April 2, 2009
By Edgar Allen Beem
Documentary photography often concerns itself with recording a passing way of life. Wife and husband team Christine and Owen Masterson, who do business as Anthony-Masterson, invert this tradition, using still and video cameras to show what could be.
For the past three years, the Mastersons have been working closely with the non-profit Georgia Organics to promote and encourage sustainable and organic farming in the state of Georgia and around the rest of the United States. They began their pro bono project in 2005 when they moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles, and, being dedicated foodies, had a hard time finding farmers' markets where they could purchase local foods.
"We wanted to put faces on farming," says Christine of the couple's mission, "and to make farmers rock stars."
For the first two years, the Mastersons primarily photographed farmers, farms and food, creating images that Georgia Organics and the farmers themselves could use on Web sites, postcards, publications, and promotional banners. The focus of Anthony-Masterson's (Anthony is Christine's maiden name) commercial work is food photography, so the Georgia farmers and their fare were celebrated in clean, elegant, light and airy images worthy of Cooking Light.
The Mastersons met in the 1980s when they were both in the music business. Owen was a guitarist and singer/songwriter with the punk rock band Yanks. Christine was tour manager for the San Francisco New Wave band Romeo Void. Subsequently, they both left music for visual media. Owen worked in front of the camera as an actor (a bit part in the movie Fight Club) and model. Christine worked as a food stylist. One day in 2000, Christine made a proposal to Owen: "I have an idea. Why don't we become photographers?"
Self-taught, the Mastersons learned their art by observing the photographers and filmmakers with whom they worked. "We do everything together," says Owen of the couple's collaborative process. "Owen is like the cinematographer," says Christine. "I might be the art director."
After eight years as still photographers, the Mastersons set their pictures in motion in 2007 to create QuickTime movies for Georgia Organics to use as "Support Your Local Farmer" public service announcements. In 2008, they used a Flip Ultra video camera to make FARM!, a 13-minute documentary aimed at encouraging young people to go into farming.
Most recently, Anthony-Masterson has been busy with a borrowed Panasonic DVX100A shooting a 30-minute documentary about urban farmers within metropolitan Atlanta, and making a documentary about Georgia Organics' farmer-to-farmer mentoring program.
"They've kind of forged their own path and we're following them now," says Alice Rolls, executive director of 1,000-member Georgia Organics. Rolls says she has been amazed at how a couple who came to Georgia Organics three years ago to get connected with organic farmers in Georgia has not only helped "put a face on our food," but has also inspired the organization to improve its Web site, and has brought many innovative farming situations (such as farmers who work for residential developers) to the attention of Georgia Organics.
Georgia Organics reports that farmers' markets in Georgia have increased from 18 to 62 since 2005, and community-supported agriculture projects have grown from 8 to 35.
"They're really pushing us," says Rolls of the Mastersons. "We've got to catch up with them." But the Mastersons say all their work on behalf of Georgia Organics has essentially been enlightened self-interest.
"We now have our choice of farmers' markets to go to," says Christine. "So it's working," adds Owen.