'Coffer': Visiting an Upstate New York Farmer's Private Sanctuary

By Maria Popova

"I got a bug to do wet plate photography in '76. In this day and age of digital, it's so easy to just shoot thousands of pictures a day."

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From filmmakers Ben Wu and David Usui of Lost & Found Films comes This Must Be The Place -- an inspired ongoing series of short films exploring the idea of home and what our private sanctuaries mean to us. The latest film in the series, Coffer, takes us to the small kingdom of an upstate New York farmer named John Coffer. Tucked between his quiet rural routines is a profound creative and philosophical lens on contemporary culture, articulated with remarkable humility and authenticity.

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I got a bug to do wet plate photography in '76. In this day and age of digital, it's so easy to just shoot thousands of pictures a day. Each individual picture becomes rather insignificant. Whereas, with the tintype, it's very intentional and you're not gonna make very many in a day. They become valued objects, not just an image. Each image is absolutely unique, like a painting.

I have created a hybrid situation where there are certain things I continue to do in the old, 19th-century way -- somethings may be the way it was done before Christ, as far as I know -- but then there are cutting-edge, high-tech things that I have here and do. I have a wind generator, solar panels, a laptop computer. You can blend these old, timeless things with the latest technology to do the things that need to be done in life. I think there's going to be more people looking back for models from the past, and use it to blend in with new ideas and technology today.

(This sentiment is reminiscent of Molly Landreth's tender vintage portraits.)

Coffer follows last year's excellent Byun -- the story of an eccentric Korean artist and collector-of-everything living in Brooklyn, who takes a hands-on approach to the concept of combinatorial creativity:

You can create a lot of stories by putting all these objects together.

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This post also appears on Brain Pickings.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/09/coffer-visiting-an-upstate-new-york-farmers-private-sanctuary/244765/