California State FFA Officers for 2022-2023. From left to right are Landon Hendricks, Vice President, Hunter Haslem, Secretary, Morgan Oliveira, Sentinal, Abigale Jacobsen, President, Melanie Orozco, Reporter, and Brian Kavanagh, Treasurer.

Leaders in the making

Recently I was approached by Tim Brown, Assistant California State FFA Advisor, asking me if I would be interested in doing a set of portraits of incoming FFA state officers. Apparently in the past these portraits were all done in a similar way where the young officers would congregate at a park and a photographer would photograph them with lovely trees in the background. For this year’s group Tim wanted to get the officers out into the fields and on the farms. After all, this is an agricultural organization so it made sense to depict that in the images. When Tim described what he wanted from the photos I was excited to do the shoot. I love shooting portraits, love working on location, and love being on farms. So we began making plans.

Before I go any further I think I should explain what the FFA organization is all about. FFA stands for Future Farmers of America and is an intracurricular organization for high school students where they can take part in a myriad of activities and studies which include animal husbandry projects, farming, botany and plant analysis, public speaking, chemistry, pest identification and control, book keeping, parliamentary procedure, and many more.

As a former member myself I can tell you that this organization is one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of. It basically made high school worthwhile for me. My main interest was related to livestock production. I raised several lambs for the county fair and even ventured into pig raising. In fact it was from the sale of my first show lamb where I earned enough money to buy my first 35mm film camera. It was a Canon TX, the most basic 35mm camera one could buy. And while I’m not active in the agricultural field in my career I suppose you could say that it was the FFA that I gave me the opportunity to pursue my interest in photography.  And like any organization it’s only as good as the advisors and the people that run it. The FFA is filled with dedicated individuals all willing and eager to help students achieve their best. In my high school we had Mr. Mosbarger as our Ag teacher and FFA advisor. I often marveled, and appreciated, how much time he put into the program, our school farm, and especially his students. The things he taught us were not only skills and knowledge necessary for farm work but also useful in our daily lives. I don’t think I could ever thank him enough.

Okay, so back to the shoot. Locations were going to be critical to our success, but more importantly, were the subjects and their enthusiasm for a long day of shooting. I arrived in Galt, CA, located in California’s Central Valley, the afternoon before our shoot. I met up with Tim and joining us was my brother, Matt, who came down from Tulelake, CA to help with the project. Matt, a high school teacher, has been working with the FFA to help develop and train FFA members for a variety of competitions of which they have gone on to win numerous state competitions.

Tim then guided us out of town which quickly became farmland as far as one could see. Tim pulled over to a field containing young stalks of corn. This could work for a group shot so I told Tim but we would need to come early. Like 6am early. He said that wouldn’t be a problem and we moved on to our next location, which was a couple miles away where we met with Christina Silva-McMahon at Silva Bros. Dairy. Christina gave us a tour of the farm and made us feel welcome and essentially gave us free reign.

First shot of the day. An impressive display of enthusiasm.

Early the next morning Matt and I set out for the corn field. Tim was already waiting at the location and greeted us with thermoses full of freshly brewed coffee. As it turns out Tim was something of a coffee aficionado. The man actually roasts his own coffee beans. One sip of his special brew and we were ready for battle. We proceeded to the far end of the field where Matt and I began setting up my gear. I chose an angle where the morning sun would be at their backs so the corn stalks would be lit from behind. For the officers I decided to use my large octagon soft-box.  Just as I was set to go the officers arrived. Concerned I would be dealing with a bunch of sleepy faced teenagers I was quickly impressed with how prepared they all were. In addition to all looking fantastic with nicely pressed uniforms and perfect hair and makeup they were also in great spirits and excited to begin the day. After some brief introductions I invited them to enter the field and we got to work. It didn’t take them long to get warmed up and they were soon providing me with a variety of expressions and poses.

With the corn field shots completed we headed over to the dairy farm. As soon as we entered the farm I noticed a long line of cows having their breakfast. It looked like a good opportunity for another group shot. So, before the cows could complete their meal I asked the officers to join the cows. At first they thought I would simply do a shot with the cows behind them but then I said you all need to get close, very close. With some initial apprehension they complied with my request. It didn’t occur to me at that moment that some of these officers were not so familiar with livestock. I’m thinking that these are all farm kids. That assumption was not completely accurate as FFA offers a very diverse array of things for students to do within the agricultural world. That said, anyone with any initial concerns, or perhaps fear, were quickly put aside and they all joined the cows for breakfast. Some got a bit of slime on their uniforms, and possibly faces, but everyone remained in good spirits. The result is the photo at the top of this post.

Morgan Oliveira, State Sentinal, with a new friend.

In addition to creating a variety of group shots I also needed to do individual portraits of each officer. The Silva Farm provided numerous opportunities to complete this task. In addition to dairy cows they had goats, hay bales, silage, mountains of almond husks and farming equipment.

Morgan Oliveira, State Sentinal, was introduced to a beautiful young heifer and they bonded immediately.

Abigale Jacobsen making a new friend.

When I mentioned that there were a couple of young goats we could photograph, both Abigale Jacobsen and Melanie Orozco lit up and volunteered to pose with them.

First up was Abigale, who is serving as the State President. When her goat came out we tried doing some shots where she was holding the young goat but that little guy turned out to be quite heavy and the shot wasn’t working. I then asked Abigale to lay flat on the hay covered floor and Tim became the goat wrangler. With each couple of frames the goat would wander off and Tim would have to push it back into position. The shot was looking okay but not great. Then the goat came in close to Abigale and nuzzled her cheek as if giving her a little kiss. That was it!

Abigale Jacobsen, recieves a kiss from a curious kid.

Tim Brown, Assistant State FFA Advisor, works to encourage a young goat to be more cooperative with FFA State President, Abigale Jacobsen.

Melanie Orozco, State Reporter, with a more relaxed kid.

Just as we were finishing up with Abigale’s shoot Christina arrived with another little goat. It was now Melanie’s turn to deal with an anxious farm animal. But as soon as she sat down with the little guy it quickly relaxed and actually appeared to be enjoying his moment in front of the camera.

Landon Hendricks, Vice President

Next up came Landon Hendricks, FFA State Vice President. With stacks of large hay bales on the farm it made for a good backdrop for this tall young man. For each subject I always work to get more than one option for the client to choose from. When I first saw Landon I thought, just put a pair of nerdy glasses on this tall dude and he’s Clark Kent. So, why not photograph him in a Superman pose.

An old barn and steel wheel provided a nice background for this portrait of Hunter Haslem, State Secretary.

A nearby vineyard provided an opportunity to do a portrait of Brian Kavanagh, State Treasurer.

As we continued to work all the various locations on the Silva Bros. Dairy we were drawn to a mountain of almond husks which are used to mix with the dairy cows feed. I asked Abigale to be the subject for this one which she happily accepted. Climbing the mountain of husks proved to be a bit of challenge as each step meant sliding down the hill. With a bit of effort she was able to get into position for the photo. With the sun about to reach its zenith I had to use all the power my flash could muster to over power the suns rays.

The group was always ready for an opportunity to create a playful portrait.

For most of the images the goal was to present a happy friendly group eager to represent the California State FFA Organization. But, I did want to get at least one shot where they presented a tougher, “don’t mess with us” look. With midday heat pounding down on us it actually made this image more possible, and perhaps closer to how they were feeling. Those corduroy jackets look sharp but they do two things really well. They keep you hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

Roll Call

At the beginning of every FFA meeting the president will call upon the vice president and ask if all officers are at their stations. The VP then proceeds to take roll by calling on each officer. As each officer is called upon they stand and announce where they are stationed. Each officer has a small sculpture beside them which is the symbol of their position and after announcing their station they then proceed to recite why that symbol represents their position and what their duties are as that officer.

The stations are as follows: Sentinel-Stationed by the door, Reporter-Stationed by the flag, Treasurer-Stationed the emblem of Washington, Secretery-Stationed by the ear of corn, Vice President-Stationed by the plow, and the President-Stationed by the rising sun.

Part of my assignment was to photograph each officer beside the symbol which represents their various stations. Since I didn’t want to just photograph each officer holding the sculpture from the meeting room I tried to find actual things that symbolically connected them to their jobs. Is was challenging task but we were successful for the most part.

State President, Abigale Jacobsen, Elk Grove, CA

Stationed By The Rising Sun

“The rising sun is the token of a new era in agriculture. If we will follow the leadership of our president, we shall be led out of the darkness and selfishness and into the glorious sunlight of brotherhood and cooperation.”

State Vice President, Landon Hendricks, Menifee, CA

Stationed By The Plow

“The plow is the symbol of labor and tillage of the soil. Without labor, neither knowledge nor wisdom can accomplish much. My duties require me to assist at all times in directing the work of our organization. I preside over meetings in the absensce of our president, whose place is beneath the rizing sun.”

State Secretary, Hunter Haslem, Durham, CA

Stationed By The Ear Of Corn

“I keep an accurate record of all meetings and correspond with secretaries wherever corn is grown and FFA members meet”

State Treasurer, Brian Kavanagh, Temecula, CA

Stationed By The Emblem Of Washington

“I keep a record of receipts and disbursements just as Washington kept his farm accounts-carefully and accurately. I encourage thrift among the members and strive to build up our financial standing throught savings and investments. George Washington was better able to serve his country because he was financially independent.”

State Reporter, Melanie Orozco, Holtville, CA

Stationed By The Flag

“As the flag covers the United States of America, so I strive to inform the people in order that every man, woman and child may know that the FFA is a national organization that reaches from the state of Alaska to the Virgin Islands and from the state of Maine to Hawaii.”

State Sentinel, Morgan Oliveira, Hilmar, CA

Stationed By The Door

“Through this door pass many friends of the FFA. It is my duty to see that the door is open to our friends at all times and that they are welcome. I care for the meeting room and paraphenalia. I strive to keep the room comfortable and assist the president in maintaining order.”

Our final location was back at the FFA State Office building in Galt, CA. Seems being tortured by me wore them out.