Farming and ranching is not only an occupation but also a unique lifestyle where work and leisure often coincide. This choice of occupation shapes the lives of the people who have and still work within it.
Being a firm believer in this, I can proudly say that I grew up on a farm in North Central Kansas. Four generations before myself, my family's farm was homesteaded in the late 1880s. The farm is currently under the ownership of my grandfather, Bill Eberle, and my great uncle, Roy Timbers, giving it the name Timbers & Eberle Farm. However, as old age has taken its toll, Roy and Bill have turned over almost all of the duties to my father, Ted Eberle.
As patterns go, the next two in line to inherit the farm and its duties would be my one younger brother, Jess Eberle, or myself. Yet in spite of this, certain events have suggested otherwise. Once we both left for college our career interests developed into paths that are leading us away from the farm.
Just as the four generations before, my brother and I grew up on our family farm. As brothers almost two years apart, we had the whole countryside at our disposal. Spending nearly all of our time outdoors for work or play, the land we lived on provided everything to us. The farm enabled us to learn about life and death, self-reliance, hard work, and the importance of family. Even at a young age my brother and I were able to discover these things, with family being at the center of it all. Family members were whom you worked with, and it was those same family members that you came home to. In addition, my grandparents were nothing short of second parents and only lived a short walking distance away.
My family has always had a large impact on my decisions. When my father was in high school he was a stand out athlete and enjoyed the visual arts. After my brother and I were born, he still continued to sketch and draw from time to time. Like many sons, we looked up to our father and wanted to be like him. We would flip through his yearbooks and marvel at his accomplishments. Like my father, my brother and I took a great interest in athletics. However, unlike my brother, I also took notice of my father's artwork. Besides athletics, I began to spend a good amount of time directed toward drawing and photography in and out of school.
After graduating from high school, I decided to pursue my interest in sports and chose to attend a college based more on my desire to play football rather than my academics. Although I was mostly interested in my athletics, I continued my artistic desire by majoring in art. Around my junior year in college, the reality of having little direction with my academics started to hit home. By this time photography had become my main interest, but I was not in the position I wanted to be with my photography.
After strong consideration and great support from my family, I decided to continue my education after my four years of college. I left the rural lifestyle in North Central Kansas to attend a photojournalism school in Southern California at Brooks Institute. Stemmed from my childhood of exploration and discovery around the farm, I had dreams of traveling the world and documenting the raw and rarely seen aspects of life. Yet, I had no idea that my photojournalism would eventually lead me back to the farm.
After a year of learning the basics of photojournalism a teacher, Anacleto Rapping, approached me about a project I had been working on. He asked if the project I was working on was the type of work I wanted to pursue. Unaware of what he was fully inquiring about, Anacleto suggested I take some photos of my family farm when I returned over Christmas break. Upon returning from my break, I showed my teacher the photos. He simply wanted to see more. Before long the few photos of the farm began to develop into a story. Anacleto had taught me a valuable lesson. Photograph what you care about. From that point on, I started to realize my strongest work was created from the things I cared and knew the most about.
Now, photography has fully taken over the direction of my career. With my brother and I pursuing different career paths, the future of the family farm seems uncertain. For some growing up on the farm, the lifestyle is simply a byproduct of farming. For others, farming is a byproduct of the lifestyle or maybe a little of both. Whichever way it is for myself, I have chosen my path. My only concern is that my children may not have the opportunity to experience the lifestyle that I cherish so very much. This lifestyle and occupation is slowly slipping into the past, and I am trying to capture what is left of it. The family farm will almost certainly be there for many years to come, and I will be there documenting it along the way.
- Cole W. Eberle