Michael Poster: Love, Labor, Worship: The People of Basin Farm

March 14 - May 3, 2015

Photographer and essayist Michael Poster spent three years documenting the daily lives of a Twelve Tribes community near Bellows Falls, Vermont. The people of Basin Farm grow organic produce, bake bread, make yogurt, work with wood, raise children, and worship Yahshua, their Messiah and master.

That Poster gained the trust of the community is a testament to the gentleness of his nature and the authenticity of his approach. He entered the project with a genuine desire to know and understand neighbors who have chosen to live a life of faith and family, apart from the larger culture. After a time, his comings and goings were woven into the fabric of the farm. Because he effectively disappeared, his subjects did not self-consciously pose for the camera. It allowed the production of a remarkable body of work.

Poster’s images capture life on the farm, recording the full range of human experience — the beauty of the natural landscape and the mechanics of the working landscape, quiet moments of introspection, family groupings, communal rituals, and rites of passage. His photographs are accompanied by a series of written comments, expanding our understanding of how daily work is a practice of daily faith, deeply rooted in the culture and beliefs of the people of Basin Farm.

— Mara Williams, Chief Curator

I was told about Basin Farm and the Twelve Tribes in early spring of 2012. Soon after that, I wrote to them, then phoned, and then emailed hoping for a meeting to explain my interest in making photographs at the farm. I’d nearly given up the thought of gaining access to the community when David, the farm manager, called and invited me to visit and make a case for my work.

The people who live on the farm are gracious and warm to strangers but wary of journalists who, they believe, have mostly misrepresented the community. There is plenty to read in online news archives about the Twelve Tribes; some stories focus on controversial incidents involving alleged child abuse and child labor violations. Other negative reports describe a misogynist, homophobic, and racist ideology.

During our first meeting I explained that I was not a journalist, but a patient observer; that I worked on very long term, diverse projects about sometimes controversial or poorly understood subjects like natural gas drilling and women’s roller derby. After considering my sample pictures, they invited me to return, but it was clear that to them, my presence represented a risk. I would need to earn their trust.

The project at Basin Farm began in May 2012. Since then, I have come to admire the people who live, work, and worship there. I can’t tell you that what you might read about the Twelve Tribes is true or false, and in making pictures at Basin Farm, my aim was not to document or pass judgment on their religious beliefs. I can say that their passion for living simply, their devotion to the land, and their love for one another inspires me, and that the pictures I made at the farm are true; they are what I saw.

— Michael Poster


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