Moo Yorker

Photographed in Fresno, California for The New Yorker with the article Is Raw Milk Worth It?

Gotta work on my bovine-motivation skills. Behind-the-scenes photo by Shaun Fenn.

I’ve just shot my first assignment for The New Yorker and I couldn’t be more pleased.

The New Yorker has been on my shortlist of most-desired editorial clients for a long, long time so it was a wonderful surprise when Photo Editor Jessie Wender emailed me asking if I would like to come by their offices and show my work to her and Director of Photography Whitney Johnson. She asked when would be a good time to do so and I recognized that responding with, “I can be there in 20 minutes!” wouldn’t look good, so I suggested a time three days on.

It led to this curious assignment about the ongoing controversy over raw milk and its gray-market status. The story by Dana Goodyear, Is Raw Milk Worth It? The Case Against The Single Utter Butter, ran in the April 30, 2012 issue of the magazine. It has generated a lot of discussion, and the photo dept has posted a short interview with me about the visual end of the piece on their blog, Photo Booth.

NYer: How do you feel about raw milk? 

It usually puts me on guard when I hear people speak with a religious fervor about something that’s, well, not religious. I feel like the person is looking to sell me something I don’t want or need. But our host at Organic Pastures of Fresno, California, Mark McAfee, is a good salesman and like all good salesmen you end up wanting to buy from him. He spoke about the taste quality and the health benefits of raw milk to my assistant, our two models and myself for most of the time that he had us within earshot and I ended up asking him where I could get it in New York State (only directly from two farms upstate, apparently).

From reading Dana Goodyear’s piece and hearing out Mr. McAfee my take is that now is a good time for most states to re-evaluate the real dangers and benefits of Raw Milk production. I appreciate that the Interstate Commerce Laws will continue to bring frustration of dairy farms like Organic Pastures but it seems that letting different states experiment with various approaches to revisiting raw milk is best for the long-term public health and safety.

NYer: How did you come up with this idea for the shoot?

I kept the direction from the original outreach email in mind (“we’re envisioning a cow, with humor”) while reading the notes on the story that were sent along. Pretty much the first lines were about Federal agents rounding up interstate law abusers, and I simply put the two together: let’s arrest some Holstein cows.

NYer: Was there anything funny or memorable that happened on the day of the shoot?

This assignment arrived while I was already out-of-town on a series of shoots in different cities, so we arranged it that I went to my next destination a day early to execute this for The New Yorker. The schedule could be worked out fine but I didn’t already have farm-friendly clothes in my luggage and that worried me a little. My packed wardrobe was not super-formal but it also wasn’t going to suit crawling around in muddy fields and cow manure either. Luckily our farmer host lent me some boots but my A.P.C. black jeans and my fancy windbreaker got the full farm experience. Once I’m shooting it’s no-holds-barred, so I just had to roll with it, so to speak.

NYer: Anything else you’d like to share?

The models who played the Federal Agents, Karl Preheim and Michael Alfheim, were fantastic – it was a last-minute job, with a before dusk call time and they showed up in their best suits AND brought their own props (ear pieces, sunglasses, binoculars, etc). After almost three hours of shooting we took them for breakfast – at 8:30 AM!

This is the shot that ran in The New Yorker, April 30, 2012 issue.

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