Five Fab Fotos with Joe Murphy, A Visual Conversation with Imaginative Professionals

Meet Joe Murphy, Member Communications Manager Iowa Soybean Association:

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My background is in photojournalism and I grew up in Iowa and have always lived here. That has given me a strong Midwestern influence in my life and my work. After working at several newspapers and shooting editorial photos for the United Press International, I started working for a farm organization documenting farmers, their families and the food that they grow. For the last 12 years I’ve met and photographed farmers from across the country and also South America, Africa, Europe and Asia. It has been some of the most rewarding work I’ve done because of the hard work, openness and love of the land that they live day in and day out. Photographically it has proven to be a subject matter that never gets old for me. You would think the years and growing seasons would all be the same. For example you plant a seed it grows and it is harvested. But with the increase of technology to help with better yields and environmental stewardship there are many stories to photograph and tell.  I can’t recall one year that has been the same, especially when weather conditions like flooding and droughts come into play.

With the rise of social media and the popularity of hashtags I decided to develop one to congregate all of my different images. In doing that I invented the word “Farmtog” to describe my career as a farm photographer. You can see a collection of my “Farmtog” images on my website at: or you can also search for the #farmtog hashtag on social media.

Josef Koudelka Gypsies 3

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

1. The first photo that has impacted me comes from Josef Kudelka, one of my favorite photographers. His “Gypsies” series had a profound impact on me as I studied photojournalism at the University of Iowa and also gave me a desire to explore the world. I think that led me to my travels around the globe where I’ve been able to photograph and meet many great people.


Transporting bags of dirt in the Serra Pelada gold mine, Brazil. Photo by Sebastiao Salgado

2. Sebastiao Salgado’s images also impacted me as I studied photojournalism. His longterm photo projects that he has developed through learning about his subjects while living with them and learning about their everyday struggles has made for excellent images that would go by unnoticed without his discerning eye.

Farmer rescues a calf. Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Farm Bureau

3. Spring calving in Iowa. One of my photographs from four years ago that I think shows the dedication American farmers and ranchers go through everyday to feed a growing population. I had the opportunity to follow a farmer while he worked through an extremely difficult calving season. An early thaw in Iowa combined with large amounts of rain made grass pastures into mud bogs one to two feet deep. This image and several others that I had published shows the physical demands and hard work that these farmers go through around the clock for months at a time to care for their animals. In this image a calf became stuck in the mud and was separated from its mother. This farmer had to trudge through mud and carry the calf 40 yards to a dry place where it could be reunited with the mother so it wouldn’t succumb to the elements.

Photo by Joseph L. Murphy

Photo by Joseph L. Murphy

4. Landscape photography has been a love of mine for many years. My playground has been in my backyard – the state of Iowa. I often take off on a gravel road with no destination in mind stopping to take photos as I go. Combine that with the different seasons and diversity of the landscape and I think it is a recipe for great images.

Photo by Joseph L. Murphy

Photo by Joseph L. Murphy

5. I’m always striving to capture people in their environments while conveying their character. This, in my opinion, is what makes photographers great. I feel that I’m along way from mastering photography and achieving great portraits but I am always trying to grow. I recently photographed farmers for a portrait project that was published in a magazine. This image and several others came to the top for me as solid portraits. I love how you can see the dirt on his face, the years of hard work in every wrinkle and his positive personality.



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