Sandra Lording’s Mansfield Farm Project Photography Exhibition tells the Manning family’s story through images of farming activities, landscapes and people. I spoke to Sandra about the inspiration for the project, how it played out and what she learnt.
The exhibition will be held at St Mary’s Hall, 48 Hunter Street, Mansfield on April 3-7, 2021.
What inspired the Mansfield Farm Project?
When I moved to Mansfield, Victoria, in 2017 (see Sandra Lording, Mansfield Photographer), I had little understanding about farming. Overnight, cattle or sheep appeared in previously empty paddocks, crops sprung from the ground, and the landscape was ever-changing colours. The Mansfield Farm Project was born out of a desire to educate myself about farming and to capture images to inform a wider audience.
I asked for expressions of interest and selected the cattle farm Davilak.
Can you tell me a bit about the Manning’s farm?
Davilak Pastoral Company runs black Angus cattle in Mansfield Shire, Victoria. They have:
- 1800 head of cattle across nine farms
- 5000 acres freehold and approximately 1000 acres leasehold
They also have a farm in Benalla, but that did not form part of the project.
I am indebted to Rodda and Anna for taking a leap of faith in allowing me full access to the farm, its operations and their family.
What did the project entail?
I made 41 farm visits over 12 months – May 16, 2019 to May 15, 2020. We endeavoured to reflect the change of seasons and the range of activities – castration, muster, cattle auctions, pregnancy testing, feeding time, hoof trimming, tagging, working dogs, morning tea and family time. I captured over 12,000 images in total.
What did you learn through this process?
I found a new appreciation for the complexity of farming and the dedication required to build a successful farming business.
- Farming is relentless – seven days a week, 365 days per year, in all weather
- Work boots are a great investment
- 4WDs are a must
- Close the gates!
- Farming terminology – there is a difference between a heifer and a steer
- Farmers are highly educated and skilled at their craft
- Farming is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle
Can you tell me a bit about the images you selected for the exhibition?
The exhibition consists of 46 photographs. It was hard to narrow it down, but I chose images to represent the people, the activities and the landscape.
To give the highest quality prints, each image was edited by Master Photographer and printed by Printer Rocco Ancora from Capture to Print. I selected Canson Infinity Fine Art Paper.
I understand entrance supports the charity ‘Are You Bogged Mate?’. Can you tell us a bit about them?
I’m really excited about supporting ‘Are You Bogged Mate?’ through a gold coin donation on entering the exhibition.
Are You Bogged Mate? “is all about helping country blokes talk about mental health and suicide while spreading awareness about depression in the bush.”
Founder, Mary O’Brien, says, “Depression in the bush is a lot like getting bogged in the mud. It might be just a sticky patch on the road or paddock where the vehicle stopped moving, maybe you needed low range or to winch yourself out. But what happens when you get properly bogged? When it’s down to the running boards, sitting on the chassis, you’re not getting out of this one easily – that’s the kind of bogged we mean.”
Her unique approach of replacing psychological terms with farming ones resonates with farmers and breaks down the stigma and barriers to men seeking help in rural communities.
What were the challenges of the Mansfield Farm Project?
The project presented many learning opportunities and logistical hurdles.
- I was unfamiliar with farming, so before shooting each new activity (bull testing, pregnancy testing, etc.), I took to Google to research what they involved.
- A working farm is a busy place, with many hazards for a roaming photographer. I had to be creative to stay out of the way yet find good vantage points. I was often seen perched on an internal railing in the cattle yards, on the back of a ute or on top of hay bales.
- Ideally, I’d capture most images around sunrise and sunset with perfect weather conditions, but farming occur at all times of the day, all year round. I encountered heavy fog, freezing mornings rain, and midday sunshine.
- With 1800 head of cattle, you’d think it would be easy to locate cows, but spread over 6,000 acres, it sometimes proved difficult.
- I had full access to Davilak’s farmland, however photographing alone, particularly in low light in unfamiliar surroundings, required planning and care.
- As an essential service, the farm continued to operate throughout the Covid-19 lockdown, but in the early stages, I was unsure whether I’d be able to complete the project. The exhibition had to be rescheduled.
- This is my first photography exhibition, and managing the logistics put me on a steep learning curve.
What’s next for you?
Since completing the Mansfield Farm Project, I have started photographing other farms in the region including sheep and cattle farms, and Koala Cherries. I will shortly launch photo sessions for mini-Farmers – capturing life on the farm through the eyes of children. My wedding and portrait photography continues, as does my work with the Mansfield Courier. I love the variety of work and look forward to more adventures.
Next time: My first ten entries from Writers Victoria Flash Fiction 2021 – Part One