"It's a simple but powerful vignette about the unforgiving forces of change. But it's also about those things that are enduring, that connect one generation to another, that render a farming couple and a suburban family not so different after all."
-NPR's The Picture Show
As I first set foot on Harlow Cagwin’s farm back in May, 1994, I had no reason to believe that the visit would be anything more than just another daily assignment for the suburban Chicago newspaper that I was employed at.
However, after spending an afternoon following around 72-year-old Harlow and his wife Jean, as they tended to their herd of Angus beef cattle, I had the feeling that the Cagwin land, despite its weather-beaten barns and ramshackle farmhouse, was a magical place.
That feeling only was solidified as I spent the better part of the next 8 years documenting Harlow and Jean as they lived life to the fullest, even while battling health issues, economic hardship and the onset of suburban sprawl.
The Cagwins’ time on the farm came to an end on July 2, 2002, as Harlow’s life long home was violently razed to make room for the Willow Walk subdivision, as he sat slumped on a felled tree in the front yard.
Once again, I had no reason to believe that I would ever visit this land again.
Fast forward to March, 2007, and a classroom at the College of DuPage, 25 miles north of the former Cagwin farm.
After showing my farm photos to a class of photographers, the lights came up and a woman raised her hand.
That woman. Amanda Grabenhofer, declared that she lived in the subdivision that was built on the Cagwin farmland.
Less than a week later, I was standing at the end of Cinnamon Court photographing an Easter egg hunt involving Amanda’s four children and the rest of the kids who lived on one of Willow Walk’s cul de sacs.
Soon after that, I photographed Amanda and her husband Ed’s oldest child, Ben, as he and his cousin, C.J., wrestled with a jump rope on the Grabenhofer’s lush green lawn.
The resulting image took me back to a day six years earlier, when Harlow struggled to lasso a two-day-old calf in the knee high hay of a field located approximately where the Grabenhofer’s two-story, aluminum-sided home was built.
Later that evening, I pieced together a diptych of the two similar images and “Common Ground” was born.
About 100 pairings later, as the project enters its 20th year, the time has come to give this historical document some permanence.
“Common Ground” will be a high quality hundred page book dedicated to the memory of Harlow Cagwin, who died in the arms of his wife Jean, six days shy of his 90th birthday, in August, 2012.
The foreword will be penned by 2013 International Center of Photography Infinity Prize winner David Guttenfelder, who grew up among the farm fields of rural Iowa.
This campaign will finance the editing and design work that has been completed and pay for the printing and distribution of the book.
“Common Ground,” a nearly two decade long ongoing personal project, has graced the pages of the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine, Mother Jones and National Geographic.
In 2008, MediaStorm published a multimedia piece on Scott Strazzante’s personal project that debuted at the Look3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The project has also been honored with POYi's Community Awareness Award and 1st place in Feature Video in the NPPA's Best of Photojournalism contest.
Scott Strazzante has been a staff photographer for The Chicago Tribune since 2001. A 10-time Illinois Photographer of the Year, Strazzante has covered the Super Bowl, the World Series and three Olympic Games, but he is more proud of his work that uncovers small but universal moments in daily life.
In 2001, while working at The Herald News in Joliet, Illinois, Strazzante was named National Newspaper Photographer of the Year. Eight years later, Strazzante was honored with POYi Newspaper Photographer of the Year runner-up award.
Risks and challenges
Once funds are raised, I foresee no complications in printing this completed project in book form. The project has been photographed, edited and designed. The only yet to be determined segment is the printing phase.
The November, 2013 target date for printing is just an estimate. It could be earlier or later than that.
- (30 days)