I was driving along some old country roads in central Virginia searching for old farm scenes when I spotted the backside of an old threshing machine sticking out of an old barn. I was intrigued so I stopped and knocked on the door of a nearby farmhouse to inquire about it.
Most people are real nice if you approach them properly and take the time to share their interests. In this case I asked about the old machine that appeared to be out of service. Much to my surprise, I was informed that they were planning to give it one last run come July and that if I wanted to show up with my camera I would be more than welcome to record the event. This was still winter, so I left my name and telephone number and asked if they would give me a collect call when the wheat was ready to thresh. I lived nearly sixty miles away on the opposite side of the Blue Ridge, and I realized right then and there that my chances of being there for the harvest were slim to nil. In fact, I soon forgot about it.
On July 12,1975, I received an early morning phone call informing me that if I wanted to make my photographs I should head right over because they were starting to fire the tractor up. This caught me totally off guard, but fortunately I was home and was able to make a quick change in plans. I was ecstatic as I rushed to pack my gear and head over the mountain.
It was a hot, humid day and the sweat was running profusely down my face as I set up to make my photographs. The operation was in full swing, and the entire family was in on the harvest. I made many exposures to document this great event, because this was history. The last time I had witnessed an actual threshing operation was back in the late thirties when these great machines made their rounds from one farm to another during the prime cutting weeks. The moisture content of the plant had to be exactly right and when that happened everything came together at once.
I had one final image to make and it would include the entire operation, but I was waiting for the old man to come over and join in. He, on the other hand, did not feel comfortable about being photographed so he stayed pretty much behind me. I held back in anticipation but it never happened.
The whole scene changed when I had to step back from my camera and tripod to wipe the sweat from my face. It was getting into my eyes and running down my face. I was about to give up and pack it in. But when the old man saw me step back he figured I was wrapping it up and he wandered over to the exact spot that I had visualized and leaned on his cane as he put in his final two cents worth to the other fellows. It was beautiful. All of the elements came together at once. I had three or four exposures left on the roll and it took but a very few moments for me to expose the negatives that made my day. In fact, it made my year.
Could I attribute this image to luck? The answer is no. It was a case of being in the right spot at the right time and anticipating what might take place. Finally I made the exposure at the decisive moment. This is often the case when it comes to photojournalism. With landscapes, you generally have a great deal more time to contemplate.