James R. Southard: Why Buy the Cow

Online Event Presented by Institute 193

Friday, October 9th
3:00pm - 10:00pm
Saturday, November 14th
4:00pm - 11:00pm

James R. Southard

Why Buy the Cow

October 7 - November 14, 2020

Institute 193, Lexington, KY


Institute 193 is pleased to present the work of James R. Southard in an exhibition titled Why Buy the Cow, showcasing the artist's photographs taken in 2018 while working amongst family-run dairy farms in Vermont.


For the past few years, James R. Southard has spent his summers in Johnson, Vermont documenting the daily life of small-scale dairy farmers. The photographs in this exhibition focus on the Rankin Family and tell a familiar story about the collapse of the dairy industry in the region: large, automated, and heavily-mechanized operations systematically undercut local farms, leading to the closure of the majority of artisanal operations and increased suicide rates amongst the farmers. In the process, many multigenerational dairy farms are forced to sell their land at a loss, if selling is at all possible, transforming the regional geography of land and agricultural stewardship.


Southard’s photographic style walks a fine line between documentary and staged photography. Both rooted in longstanding tradition, each discipline utilizes a different approach to storytelling: in a staged photograph, the photographer intentionally sets the scene to tell a preconceived narrative, whereas documentary photography often relies on capturing an unaltered moment in time. By utilizing a mixture of documentary photography and staged portraits, Southard poignantly suspends his subjects in a magical reality. He uses his camera to tell a story essential to the livelihood of these farmers, offering the viewer a glimpse into their disappearing way of life.


James R. Southard is a Senior Lecturer of Photography at the University of Kentucky. His photography concerns agricultural communities in rural Kentucky, Wyoming, Maine, and Vermont. He is currently photographing farmers across Kentucky through a virtual residency with the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center in Belfast, Maine. Southard’s project in Vermont was made possible by help from the Great Meadows FoundationVermont Studio Centerthe School of Art and Visual Studies at the University of Kentucky, and the Food Connection. Proceeds from this exhibition will be equally shared and donated to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.