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‘Worth a thousand words’: Photographer’s work memorializes the lost and surviving farms in the region

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Sep 10, 2021

Photographer Barbara Keech talks about one of her exhibited pieces with Shepherdstown resident Wendy Wilcoxon, left, and Jim Ketterman, of Arlington, Va., in Evolve last Saturday. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Barbara Keech Photography may be most well known in the area for its pet photography, due to owner and operator Barbara Keech’s regular donations of her time and talents to capturing photographs for the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County, Birds of Prey Foundation and East Coast Exotic Animal Rescue. When Keech is not donating her time or working for-profit as a pet and human photographer, she may be found pursuing one of her photographic passion projects.

From Aug. 27-29 at Evolve, Keech held an exhibit, “Farms, Farm Life and Farm Animals,” featuring two decades of photographic documentation of regional farms — a good number of which have ceased to exist, since being captured by Keech’s camera. According to Keech, holding the exhibit on the weekend at the end of the Jefferson County Fair was no accident.

“Photography gives people something to think about,” Keech said. “Farms are dying and it’s fair week, so I wanted to have a farm gallery show to bring consciousness to the fact that ‘When they’re gone, they’re gone.’

“Farms are disappearing, especially if you’re a small farm. I just think it’s a shame we have to buy our food from other countries,” Keech said. “The few men and women who are still farming, and not part of commercial farming, are barely making it. Sadly, many of these farms have been lost.”

While Keech has been building up her repertoire of farm photographs since the beginning of her photography career, this gallery show was the first she has held, featuring that work.

From right, mother Jen Haggerty, of Charles Town, looks at some farm photography with her son, Washington High School freshman Ryan Haggerty, in Evolve last Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

“Photography is a moment in time, and it’s preserving just different aspects of farm life,” Keech said, referring to her various photographs capturing farmers plowing, two-week-old piglets and fields of wheat.

Some of the show’s attendees, like Shepherdstown resident Wendy Wilcoxon, of Air Watch Farm, came to view photographs that were taken at their own farms.

“I think she did a fantastic job, absolutely fantastic!” Wilcoxon said, mentioning she had only seen proofs of the photographs from her farm. “This is the first time I’ve seen it! I’m really surprised by how good they came out.”

For other attendees, like Arlington, Va. resident Jim Ketterman, the show was a visual reminder of the loss of family farms. Ketterman looked at the photographs in the exhibit with fondness, as they reminded him of his childhood, spending days on his grandfather’s farm in central West Virginia.

“My family has been in West Virginia before it was West Virginia — since the 1700s. This is very West Virginia,” Ketterman said of the show, mentioning his ancestor, who emigrated from Germany, founded the family farm in what is now Smoke Hole Canyon.

“[Farming’s] very, very hard work — you don’t get a vacation and you don’t get days off,” Ketterman said, before agreeing with Keech’s standpoint. “Small farms don’t make it anymore. You need thousands of acres to make it work.”

Barbara Keech Photography can be contacted at 304-582-1953 or keechbw@yahoo.com.