Viewfinder: Leaving behind ‘Guys in Ties’

Daniel Acker willfully gave up a coveted staff photographer position in New York City to relocate to rural Illinois. Life is anything but simple in his town of 800, he says. But he doesn’t regret the decision to train his camera on Main Street instead of Wall Street.

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Daniel Acker lived and worked in New York City for 10 years before he decided to move to rural Illinois, along with his wife and their two children.  Four years after the move, Acker talks to the Daily Yonder about farmers, photography and why he likes living in a small town.

Daily Yonder:  How did you start taking pictures?

Daniel Acker: I took an entry-level photography class in my junior year of high school and really enjoyed it.  I was set to graduate early, and would only have had to attend high school for half of my senior year.  So I told my guidance counselor that after I graduated I was going to take some classes at the community college because they had a photo program. She told me there was a new state program where you could actually go to community college the whole year, and it would count for high school, and the state would pay for it, books and everything.  So I ended up doing that. And then I became good friends with the head of the department and head facilities manager, and they became mentors to me and I learned a lot.  I ended up being there two more years and then I went to Rochester Institute of Technology, where I got my BFA in photojournalism. I graduated in 2000 and then I moved to New York and started working at Bloomberg News.  I worked there for 10 years, until 2010.

Left: The withered leaves of corn plants lay in the dirt in a field damaged by extreme heat and drought conditions in Carmi, Illinois. Right: Twenty-one-day-old pigs stand in a trailer prior to transport to a nearby weaning-to-market barn at Lehmann Brothers Farms LLC in Strawn, Illinois.

 

DY: How did you end up in Tiskilwa, Illinois?

DA: Both my wife and I worked in New York City.  We like it, but we just decided that we didn’t want to raise our children there. We wanted to get out of the city but I didn’t want to move to the suburbs — it was either city or country.  My wife felt the same way. She’s from the area where we live now, so given her roots here in the country, we decided to make a go of it here, and we’ve been here in Tiskilwa for four years.

 

DY: What was it like moving from New York City to rural Illinois?

DA: It was interesting.  I had a good job in New York.  There aren’t a lot of staff photography positions at national news agencies in the United States, and I had one of those jobs, and I willfully left.  It was a lifestyle decision.  The transition really wasn’t all that difficult for me, personally.  I was ready for a change.  We did a lot of family vacations around the Midwest growing up, and there was lot of farmland on the side of the interstate from that route and I just remember as a kid looking out the window and just wondering “Who lives there?”  I really admired the landscape—the farms and the barns and all the scenery of rural America was always of interest to me, even as a child. There was just something intriguing about it.  So we had the chance to buy a house for the first time, which was something that wasn’t attainable for us in the city. We have two daughters. One started kindergarten last week.  This is a good spot to raise a family. …

I hesitate to use the word “simpler” life, because I don’t think there’s anything simple about modern life no matter where you live. There’s just a lot of pulls on everybody’s time, and trying to navigate everything is stressful. But at the end of the day, this is a lot easier to manage. To me, it’s more what life should be.  It’s not hectic or fast-paced.  You get home, and you have a little time to just be in your own spot.

Kernels lay on a grate as corn is unloaded into a grain bin in Roanoke, Illinois.

 

DY: Do you think that these kinds of lifestyle differences affect the kind of pictures that you take?

DA: Well, yes and no. I think it does in the sense that the majority of the subjects I cover relate to the area I live, so by default yes.  Has my visual understanding of the world changed considerably since the move?  I don’t think so. The subjects I photograph have changed considerably, though.  Working for Bloomberg as a national news company in New York, I spent countless hours in the New York Stock Exchange. I referred to a lot of my job as “guys in ties” – executives and various business people. Interviews and press conference and conference speeches and things of that nature.  The visuals tended to all be very similar.  Contrast that with out here, where the work is a lot more varied. I enjoy that. 

Specifically, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the agricultural sector. It’s nice to have some kind of connection to your food sources and where all this comes from and who the people are who are producing it. Working alongside farmers is one of the best experiences I’ve had as a photographer.  They’re just great people, and they’re very intelligent people. I don’t want to make a blanket statement, but the impression of farmers sometimes for people that don’t live in areas like this is that they’re sitting there in their overalls with a piece of straw in their mouth, and it’s just so far from the truth.  These are highly intelligent, very complicated businesses that they’re running. It’s very interesting to see that happen.  The visuals of the farm aside, every time I go out with a farmer, I learn something.

Drought stricken corn, photographed against a white background, in a field in Carmi, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, July 11, 2012. "This was a case of 'what do I do now' as I was photographing throughout drought conditions, and their effects on crops, in southern Illinois and Indiana. I decided to isolate the plants and make 'portraits' of them by setting up a seamless [background] in the field."

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Daniel Acker is a contract photojournalist for Bloomberg and a freelance editorial and corporate photographer based in the rural community of Tiskilwa, Illinois, two hours outside of Chicago.  

Acker lives on Main Street with his wife and two daughters in a 135-year-old house with a to-do list he'll never quite complete.

After spending his youth in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, and graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2000, Acker spent a decade as a staff photographer for Bloomberg in New York City.  He relocated to Illinois in 2010 to pursue a more relaxed lifestyle in the country.

He serves as a trustee on the village board of his community of 800, and while life is as busy as ever, he savors the quiet moments on rural backroads as often as he's able. 

Acker's Instagram feed (@daniel_acker) contains images made outside of his editorial work, which can be viewed at www.danielacker.com

 Sample images from Acker's Instagram account.

 

 

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