Work of Art: A field of cut burley tobacco
Rob Amberg
born 1947
A field of cut burley tobacco
1993; printed 2002
Gelatin-silver print
Image: 12 1/4 x 18 1/4 in. (31.1 x 46.4 cm.)
Gift of the artist
© Rob Amberg, 2011

Rob Amberg documents mountain life with scenes such as this farm in Madison County, N.C., where he lives. While tobacco farming exists throughout the state, it is different in the mountains. The tobacco in the photograph is the burley type, which is more common in Kentucky and Tennessee. Amberg’s image only hints at human presence, but burley production is extremely labor intensive. After being harvested during the hottest, most humid days of summer, the stalks are strung onto sticks and left in the field for a few days to wilt, as seen here. The loaded sticks are then suspended in a tobacco barn, where the leaves continue to air dry for several weeks. In the cold days of winter, the farmers must return to the barn to strip the dried leaves in preparation for finally hauling the crop to a warehouse for auction. This way of life as well as institutions such as the auction houses are now vanishing from the landscape. These neat rows of harvested leaves fill the field like markers in a cemetery below the surrounding hills.

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