Between 1915 and 1959, American studio photographer Mike Disfarmer (1884-1959) made portraits of the residents of Heber Springs, a small town in rural Arkansas.
Only after his death did his work become known internationally and regarded as a typical example of classic American portrait photography. Foam is staging a major retrospective, with 182 vintage photographs, including a number of 8 x 10 inch prints that have never been exhibited before.
Disfarmer started life as Mike Meyer, one of seven children born to a family of German immigrants. In 1914 he and his mother arrived in Heber Springs. Along with George Penrose he ran a photographic studio for a while, called Penrose and Meyer. Their portraits were typified by the poses and props that were usual for photo studios of the time: arm in arm, or leaning on a small table placed on an oriental carpet against a background of romantically painted cloudscapes. This changed not long after Disfarmer set up his own studio in the main street of Heber Springs. The atmospheric settings were replaced by a black backdrop, or a white backdrop with a vertical black stripe. This gives his portraits a less nostalgic, more contemporary feel.
Disfarmer’s clients were a cross-section of the population of Heber Springs: farmers in overalls and housewives dressed up for the occasion to soldiers in uniform, high-school football players and children in their Sunday best. He documented women whose husbands had been sent to the front in the First or Second World War, and he photographed the farming community during the Great Depression and in the more optimistic 1950s.