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New book captures work of Indiana photographer J.C. Allen

Slideshow: Live Indiana farm life from the 1920s to the 1960s through these photos.

Fred Whitford is at it again. The director of Purdue University Pesticide Programs not only travels the state presenting programs about farm safety, but he also writes. And when he’s not writing publications about pesticide safety or other safety-related topics, he’s writing about the history of the people who made Purdue what it was in the early years, including Extension agents.

This time he wrote about a legendary “pioneer photographer,” J.C. Allen, who spent his career roaming throughout Indiana, capturing farm families at work and at play with his camera. That was no small task since some of his photos date back more than a century, progressing through the decades into the 1960s.

What Whitford and co-author Neal Harmeyer, an archivist, really did was sort through tons of photos that Allen carefully logged and compiled. They selected more than 900 to appear in a new 398-page coffee table book published by Purdue University Press.

“Memories of Life on the Farm: Through the Lens of Pioneer Photographer J.C. Allen” captures real Hoosiers at work on their farmers, driving teams of horses, feeding chickens, pitching hay by hand, and later picking corn with mounted pickers and shelling corn with early combines. There are pictures of young men, old men, moms, dads, children, dogs, cows, horses, cats, pigs — you name it; if it was on a farm in Indiana, Allen captured it.

And he captured these images while people were working, not just posing. Taken together, they paint a picture of the slow trend toward mechanization and the tractor, and the drudgery of the hard work it took to keep a farm going in Depression-era Indiana.

Prairie Farmer ties

If you go way back with Prairie Farmer, you may remember seeing J.C. Allen’s name credited on cover photos. Many cover photos used in the magazine’s Indiana edition were purchased from his company.

Allen never won many awards from his peers. Many within the ag editors association at the time preferred more modern-appearing photos, often staged to capture a certain effect. As the photos in Whitford’s book illustrate, that wasn’t Allen’s style. However, Carl Eiche, former senior editor for Indiana Prairie Farmer, notes that Allen was recognized for his long career at an ag editors meeting decades ago.    

You can order the book at press.purdue.edu. Learn more at facebook.com/purduepress. Check out the slideshow for a sampling of photos presented in the book.

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