Disfarmer by Dan Hurlin

February 6, 2009
Photo by Pavel Antonov

A man wakes up. He puts on his glasses, pulls out a tape measure and checks the size of his foot. He drinks a beer. Answers the phone. Looks for something to eat. He hits his head on the red lamp in his darkroom.

The next day the man wakes up. He puts on his glasses, pulls out a tape measure and checks the size of his foot. He drinks a beer. Answers the phone. Looks for something to eat. He almost hits his head on the red lamp in his darkroom, but ducks instead.

In his puppet portrait of a portrait photographer, Dan Hurlin looks at the non-events that make up an artist’s life. These are not dramatic, break-through moments. The artist, Mike Disfarmer, is not crazy, or particularly inspired. His is a life of tedious repetition and meticulous attention.

Disfarmer seems like someone who is not particularly likeable, and yet I like him. I watch five grown men gently handle a puppet one-fifth their size. They breathe with him and pay attention to him in a way that taps my human urge to love anything that is small. They also remind me that puppetry acknowledges, so fundamentally and satisfyingly, that we humans make worlds. We make our own worlds and try to find order and meaning in the best ways we can.

As the evening progresses, the small Disfarmer puppet gets smaller. At first the change is imperceptible but, eventually, he is miniscule. His bed swallows him up. His camera is twice his size. He is nowhere near hitting his head on the red darkroom lamp.

Like a Kafka metamorphosis, this seems like a familiar bad dream. Disfarmer is old, overwhelmed and under-equipped for simple everyday tasks. And he is an artist, small in the face of a looming passion. His is a profession in which there is no easy way to measure success or accomplishment; it is built detail by detail. He makes me think of all the tasks we set for ourselves. And the ways we achieve them, one small step at a time.

Photo by Mike Disfarmer