Clare Barboza: Focus on the Farm

by Anna Soref

The bucolic beauty of the small farm resonates from the work of photographer Clare Barboza. Yet behind Barboza’s work is a mission to document the unseen story of where our food actually comes from and the incredibly hard work of those who produce it.

“I am trying to help people to be more connected to their food, to make better, healthier choices about it, and also empower the people that are involved in producing it,” she said.

From the Chapel to the Fields

Like many photographers early in their careers, Barboza relied on shooting weddings and portraits to pay the rent. But then an assignment landed her at Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island, located in Washington’s Puget Sound, close to where she resides in Seattle. Over the course of a year she photographed a man who had quit the city to build a working farm from the ground up. “That whole process of documenting him and what he did was life changing for me,” she told Calmful Living.

At Kurtwood Farms, Barboza was immersed in the seed-to-harvest and livestock workings of a small farm. “At the time, he was doing weekly farm dinners where several-course meals were prepared using ingredients from the farm. He made his own butter with the cream from his cows; I mean, everything was from the farm—it was amazing.

“I fell in love with every part of that job—it was a dream job. I said to my husband, ‘It would be so great if there were a way for me to photograph farms and food for a living; but that is not like a real job, is it?’ I went back to doing weddings, but then I started dreading going to work. I had found this other activity that was so exciting to me.”

Just when Barboza finally mustered the courage to quit portrait photography to shoot farms and food, the recession hit. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?” Then assignments began to trickle in—shooting farms, restaurants and food. Now it’s all she does.

Life through a New Lens

Barboza’s work has had a profound effect on her personally. “My work has affected how and what we buy. Most of the food we buy is organic, and that has become more important to us; it has also become more important to support our local farmers, and we spend the money to do that. It’s really a system of values,” Barboza explained.

She pointed to her earlier experiences on Kurtwood Farms, which still shape her values. “I had been a vegetarian for years when I was younger, so meat production was always something I wanted to know more about. When I saw animals humanely treated and slaughtered at Kurtwood, I realized how essential this is. I didn’t stop eating meat, but it made it clear in my mind about making really smart choices as to where I get my meat.”

These lessons are what she wants to share through her photographs. “I want to tell the story of these people who are growing our food—show how they do it, what their lives look like. I want others to realize that these farmers are not sitting in their palaces in the hills. They never have a day off; they work so hard. I am so inspired by these people doing this for a living. I want to help everybody to connect with the farmers. When we connect to other people and to their story, we care more and it leads only to good things.”

To this end, Barboza considers her work a form of documentary. “When I start a job, I ask if I can follow them around at work and if I can be free to just document; I ask them where I can and can’t go and if I can just do my thing. There is nothing staged, and so it’s a true story.”

Barboza now shares her passion for telling a farmer’s story by teaching others how to do it with farm-to-table photography workshops. “We talk about how to tell a story through images and we do farm visits, and the students document a couple of different farms and shoot farmers’ markets, and they learn about food photography and farm photography.”

Whether she’s photographing food in her studio or donning a pair of boots to document farm life, Barboza wants to bring the story of food, the whole story, to everyone. “I absolutely love what I do. If I didn’t have to work—which I do—but if I didn’t have to, I would still do it. It’s really important to me, and my favorite jobs are the ones where I get to integrate the storytelling; that is really where my passion is.”


Check out more of Clare Barboza’s work at clarebarboza.com.