Michael Disfarmer (1884–1959)


A portrait photographer in the small town of Heber Springs, Arkansas, Michael Disfarmer captured the stark realism of rural America for over forty years. Disfarmer lived a reclusive lifestyle with meager status, and his invaluable contribution to photography went unnoticed until 1973, fourteen years after his death.


Born Mike Meyer, the sixth of seven children in a German immigrant family, Disfarmer rejected the Arkansas farming world and the family in which we was raised. Changing his name to Disfarmer was a sign of rebellion against his rural surroundings. He taught himself how to shoot and develop photographs, and built a studio on Main Street where he lived and worked until his death.


Disfarmer earned a meager living off the country farmers and ordinary people. He charged twenty-five to fifty cents for ‘penny portraits’, intended as tokens to be given to family and friends. Disfarmer’s settings are bare: Stark realism characterizes these portraits. His subjects, sometimes an individual, sometimes groups or families, were rarely captured smiling or interacting. Instead, they have a natural, often solemn expression. The sitters are often in their Sunday best, though sometimes they look as though they have just left the fields. The result is a collection of images of ordinary rural people that captures the essence of a time, a place, and the people who occupied it.


Disfarmer’s unique portraits are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Arkansas Art Center Museum, and the International Center of Photography in New York.


Selected Solo Exhibitions:


Portraits of a Lifetime – Greg Thompson Fine Art, Arkansas


Vintage Prints – Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto


Women – Steven Kasher Gallery, New York

Vintage Prints – Rose Gallery, Santa Monica


Original Disfarmer Photographs – Steven Kasher Gallery, New York

The Vintage Prints – Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York


Selected Group Exhibitions:


Idle Youth – Gladstone Gallery, New York


Selected Publications:

Disfarmer, Mike.  Disfarmer: The Heber Springs Portraits, 1939–1946.  Addison House 
Disfarmer, Mike, Steven Kasher, and Alan Trachtenberg. Original Disfarmer Photographs. Göttingen: Steidl, 2005
Disfarmer, Mike.  Herber Springs Portraits: Continuity and Change in the World Disfarmer Photographed. University of New Mexico Press