Sarah Hazlegrove photographs tobacco farmers around the world for her project, Tobacco People.

What It’s Like to Be a Tobacco Farmer: Photos From Around the World

What It’s Like to Be a Tobacco Farmer: Photos From Around the World

Behold
The Photo Blog
Sept. 30 2015 10:57 AM

What It’s Like to Be a Tobacco Farmer: Photos From Around the World  

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A field hand at the Jappe farm in Herveiras, Brazil, carries a bundle of freshly harvested leaves to the trailer, 2012.

Sarah Hazlegrove

In the late 1990s, as Sarah Hazlegrove’s family stopped growing tobacco for the first time in 200 years, her immediate reaction was to start photographing the Virginia family farm she knew and loved. Though Forkland Farm’s history with tobacco had special resonance for her, she knew its departure from the cash crop wasn’t a unique phenomenon and that many family tobacco operations around the world were slipping away as commercial enterprises increasingly dominated.

In the years since, she’s visited family farms throughout the United States, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Malawi, Indonesia, and Cuba to document the people who still grow the plant the way she knew growing up. Hazlegrove’s own personal history with tobacco has helped her access otherwise hard to access communities, and she plans to visit even more of them—hopefully in China, India, and Turkey—as she continues her project, “Tobacco People.”

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Pedro Struelp takes a break from making hands of tobacco in the stripping barn at his farm near Santa Cruz, Brazil. A hand is made up of approximately 12 cured leaves and one leaf that is used to hold the bundle together. Each hand is made uniform by selecting the leaves by their quality, color, and length, 2011.

Sarah Hazlegrove

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A farmer and his field hand arrange freshly harvested leaves in his curing barn in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, 2014.

Sarah Hazlegrove

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A farmer near Cruz das Almas, Brazil, talks to a neighbor as he drives home, his cart filled with tobacco, 2012.

Sarah Hazlegrove

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Workers carry baskets filled with tobacco to the trucks. Near Jember, Indonesia, 2011.

Sarah Hazlegrove

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Arlindo Sebastaio de Arrial begins the daily twisting of his rope tobacco in Segredo, Brazil. The rope has been worked on for weeks and is finally ready to be sold, 2012.

Sarah Hazlegrove

Over the years, Hazlegrove has had to practice what she calls “special forces photography,” because she usually only has an hour or two to “get in, get the pictures, and get out.” Still, her photos manage to capture the full variety of a tobacco farmer’s responsibilities, from harvesting to curing. But they also focus on personalities and show everyday life for the farmers, including their work and rare moments of relaxation. In Brazil, Hazlegrove took special interest in documenting workers twisting rope tobacco, an old process intended to keep tobacco preserved longer and moved more easily. In other countries, she simply photographed the common but miraculous ability of families to make a living on only two hectares—less than five acres—of land.

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“The connecting element is as much the struggle and hardships as the successes these farmers have with tobacco. Having enough money to send the kids to school, to put shoes on their feet, to eat. It’s pretty much repeated throughout the world,” she said.

Photos from “Tobacco People” will be on display in Virginia at the Taubman Museum of Art from Oct. 10 to March 27. They will also be on view at the O. Winston Link Museum and at the Harrison Museum of African American Culture starting Oct. 17. A series of self-published books containing photos from “Tobacco People” are available on Hazlegrove’s website.

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An agronomist carries an uprooted tobacco plant out of the field near Lilongwe, Malawi, 2012.

Sarah Hazlegrove

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A large coil of rope tobacco lies at the feet of a farmer in Arapiraca, Brazil. His hands, arms, and legs are streaked with the tobacco juice syrup, which is slathered on the rope during the twisting process. The syrup preserves it and gives it its unique flavor. Arapiraca, Brazil, 2012.

Sarah Hazlegrove

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Women at a cigarette factory on the island of Java in Indonesia hand roll “kretek” or clove cigarettes. Their hands flutter deftly back and forth between tobacco, paper, and the wooden rolling machines. Each woman will produce approximately 3,000 cigarettes per day, 2011.

Sarah Hazlegrove

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Pak Tahir (left) and a friend make rolled tobacco from Rajangan tobacco. Stacks of bamboo tubes four feet in length and filled with the rolled tobacco cure over the kitchen fire. Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2011.

Sarah Hazlegrove

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Farmers push carpets of cured Rajangan tobacco into rolls before sundown. New layers of freshly chopped tobacco will be spread onto the pallets during the night and will cure in the hot sun the next day. Madura, Indonesia, 2010.

Sarah Hazlegrove

Jordan G. Teicher is the associate editor of Slates Behold blog. Follow him on Twitter.