Next month will mark 10 years since I graduated from the University of Illinois. And at nearly every turn since then I can attribute something back to my time on campus in the little corner carved out for Ag Communications majors. For that, I <3 ACES!
I came to campus from a farm in the smallest county in the state, Putnam County, with a vague career goal to communicate with the public about agriculture. I was open to however that would take shape. My sophomore year, two seeds were planted that got me to where I am today as an agricultural photographer. (Literally, I am writing this from a tour bus in South Africa full of international ag journalists, photographers and communicators as we visit farms across this remarkable country.)
The first of these seeds was my part-time job. Dean Olson offered me a position on the JBT Banquet Team and handed me a little digital camera. My assignment was to capture the personalities and unique qualities of the current crop of JBT scholars. At the time, I just thought it was a fun way to meet new people and put a little cash in my pocket.
The second was signing up for AGCM 240, the photography class taught by late Bob Siebrecht. In his class I developed my critical eye—he was always pushing us to look for the “cat” that would tell a specific story. He also introduced me to the documentary work of photography greats such as Dorothea Lang.
After working in advertising and PR agencies in various roles during the last decade and then earning my master’s degree in visual sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, I started my own business last year as The Ag Photographer. My mission is now to show consumers how their food is grown and produced. I want my photography to help us move the conversation past confusing buzz words.
I am forever grateful for the start I got as an Ag Com Illini and for the connections and possibilities that continue to come when I introduce myself as an alumni of this program.
Profile photo taken by Mike Wilson, AGCM ‘81, at Beefcor Feedlot northeast of Johannesburg, South Africa.