In Heber Springs, Arkansas there lived a hermit photographer. He lived and died as obscure as his photograph subjects in the little Ozarks town. For forty five years he photographed the poor cotton farmers and small-trades people who despite their grueling poverty occasionally spent the fifty cents it took to record a birth, a marriage, a young man going off to war, any other important moment in a person’s life.
Even though he had grown up in this part of Arkansas, Disfarmer always knew he was somehow different than the other members of his community. Despite the fact that he was born in a nearby town and his father had fought for the south during the Civil War, he was always considered a stranger to the tiny community. Mike Disfarmer was born with the surname Meyer, but since he knew that the name meant tenant farmer and Mike knew he was no farmer, he legally changed his name to Disfarmer in 1939.
Disfarmer lived out his days living above his little studio in his small bachelor apartment day after day, year after year until his death in 1959 at the age of 75. His building was dismantled. His exposed negative plates stayed for years in boxes piled in Joe Allbright’s carport until 1971 when Peter and Karen Miller gave up their New York City lifestyles to run the weekly Arkansas Sun.
The remainder of the book tells about how the author of the book along with the Millers worked to bring the eccentric artist’s photographs from obscurity to be included in the New York Metropolitan Museums of Art and Museum of Modern Art.
Because I had lived in a small town in the Ozarks, I have been able to understand some of the stories that Julie Scully told in the book about how people in the Ozarks are concerning strangers. I personally lived in an area for over 25 years and yet I too was considered a stranger by long time residents. I enjoyed this story very much. I would definitely recommend this easy read.