In 1884, in a small town in Arkansas, Michael Meyers was born, the sixth of seven children in a German immigrant family of farmers. Going against the grain of his upbringing, Meyers worked as a commercial portrait photographer, and, in 1939, changed his name to “Disfarmer.” Little is known about the reclusive Disfarmer, though having him take your picture in his Main Street studio in Heber Springs, Arkansas, was a main attraction. When Disfarmer passed away in 1959, a retired Army engineer named Joe Albright bought the old studio and it’s contents. According to the Disfarmer website, Albright found thousands of dollars (cash) hidden in film plate boxes, and over 3,000 glass plate negatives, which he put in storage. Years later a photographer named Peter Miller moved to Heber Springs, and in the local paper, The Arkansas Sun, Miller put together a feature of old family photos. Albright submitted a few from Disfarmer. Through publication in the newspaper, Disfarmer’s work made it’s way to the editor of Modern Photography magazine, Julia Scully, who worked to promote the Disfarmer’s photographs to a wider audience.
An exhibition of Disfarmer’s portraits will be on display at the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, New York, beginning November 9, 2014. Over 100 images will be on display, as well as supporting materials like enlargements from original glass plate negatives, newspaper clippings, historical journals and bits of audio from old interviews with people who knew Disfarmer.