Pumpkins play an integral part in the traditional harvests that date back long before America’s European colonization. Indigenous tribes cooked the soft inner pulp, added the yellow blossoms to soups, turned dried pieces into flour, and ate the seeds as a tasty snack. In an assignment for 1889 Washington’s Magazine, editorial photographer Richard Darbonne visits a southern Olympia, Wash. farm where they have been growing pumpkins since before the area was made a state in 1889.
Richard had worked for the publication on other projects and was contacted directly by the Art Director Allison Bye to highlight a local family farm for their October issue. The article featured farmers who speak to the process of growing the pumpkins while local chefs offer their favorite seasonal recipes.
I’ve worked with Allison before, and we’ve developed a good relationship where she trusts me to take the lead on the direction of the shoot.
Richard drove to the Rutledge Corn Maze, where general manager Robby Rutledge and his family have harvested sweet corn and pumpkins for over 200 years. The multi-generational farm also offers seasonal attractions like a corn maze, which at night is haunted by zombies playing paintball.
We took all the images in the corn maze which featured a sasquatch bench and since the setting is the northwest — sasquatch country — it seemed like a fitting icon.
Initially, Richard was unsure about venturing into the corn maze to take images by himself without a guide. The owner mentioned that every year someone loses their way, warranting a panicked call to the local police. However, since they change the maze every year, the owner was able to provide a recent map that he could use to help Richard navigate its winding paths.
I had never been in a corn maze before, and I was a little wary about going too far in and getting lost since the corn stalks were really tall and thick.
While the weather styled the traditional grey clouds of the PNW, Richard worked to find light and shadows that could add depth to the rows of stalks and plants.
It was a very grey day so the challenge was finding enough light, shadows, and color to create an interesting image.
When photographing a portrait of Robby, Richard knew he wanted to capture him amid the greenery that he tends to daily. While the subject wasn’t used to being in front of the camera in this setting, Richard felt sure he would begin to relax as he walked through the green pastures he has known his whole life.
I shot him in front of the corn maze and framed him with the stalks, which created some cool shapes and colors. I especially liked the shots of him in front of the 8-foot tall sunflowers!
Because the weather didn’t draw the farm’s usual crowds, Richard looked for details that speak to its everyday environment. He captured images of their chicken coop, green wagon, and a flock of birds flying far from the farm’s scarecrows.
When I first got out to the farm I wasn’t feeling super inspired by the setting or the light, but I kept digging to find interesting details.
My style is photojournalistic so I try to get lots of candids and in-between moments to help tell the whole of the story.
Though the recipes for using pumpkins have changed since the farm’s initial planting, the process for growing them is still the same as it was in the 1800s. Richard sought the authentic details that captured the family’s heritage of harvesting American fruits and vegetables on their land.