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A 21st Century Pioneer Experience

From: Megan Martin
Length: 05:31

John Coffer, a Tintype photographer, takes us on a wagon ride into Dundee, NY

Johncoffer_small This is a piece about tintype photographer and artist, John Coffer. When modern life seemed to fail him in his late 20s, he sold all of his belongings, bought a horse and cart, and traveled around the United States by back roads. He replicated the traveling lifestyle of 19th century tintype photographers. Along the way he honed his craft with in wetplate photography, wrote a few books, and gave birth to a his own personal philosophy. We find him on his farm in Upstate New York, where he takes us into town on his buggy.

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Piece Description

This is a piece about tintype photographer and artist, John Coffer. When modern life seemed to fail him in his late 20s, he sold all of his belongings, bought a horse and cart, and traveled around the United States by back roads. He replicated the traveling lifestyle of 19th century tintype photographers. Along the way he honed his craft with in wetplate photography, wrote a few books, and gave birth to a his own personal philosophy. We find him on his farm in Upstate New York, where he takes us into town on his buggy.

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Review of A 21st Century Pioneer Experience

This piece was produced for but not aired on "Weekend America." Given the byzantine difficulties of getting independently produced work aired on "Weekend America," I'm not surprised that this able cutaway was rejected from "WA"'s slush pile.

The main thing I found lacking here was some sense of tintype photographer John Coffer's actual work. I would've liked to have heard producer Megan Martin describe a couple or three of Coffer's portraits or landscapes in detail.

Otherwise, Martin does an exemplary job of accompanying Coffer while he shops for groceries, driving in a horse-drawn cart. As Brownie trots to town, Coffer tells about how he grew up in Las Vegas and Florida, pursuing the high life, only to realize he "felt alone in the crowd a lot of times." Realizing he "wasn't good at living the modern life style," he decided to say bye-bye to cars, digital cameras, and newfangled thingamabobs. Rather than moving to Walden Pond, he sold his worldly goods to purchase a 50-acre farm outside of tiny Dundee, deep in the heart of the Finger Lakes district in upstate New York. Coffer's quest to, in Thoreau's words, "simplify, simplify" is inspiring to hear about. And whereas Thoreau returned from his cabin on Walden Pond to his mother's house in Concord every night, Coffer appears to be truly a loner -- unless he's hiding somebody in his hayloft!

While the bleep-bleeps of a supermarket cash register harmonize with recorded sales pitches for fresh Gala apples and the "hello, how are you?" of a female checkout worker, one of Coffer's sentences echoes in our minds: "I wanted to emulate the horse-drawn traveling photographer of the nineteenth century as closely as I possibly could."

Move over, Mathew Brady. Like a Civil War reenactment devotee, John Coffer yearns to re-create life as it was centuries ago in his pioneering wet-plate photographs, as well as in his everyday comings and goings.

Broadcast History

Weekend America (not aired) from APM.

Related Website

www.johncoffer.com