What would it be like to live deliberately, away from civilization? Sarah Rice, a photographer based in Camden, Maine, began documenting the three dozen residents of a commune in central Virginia five years ago. She returns to the farm twice a year for her photographic series “What We Need Is Here,” which she intends to turn into a book. Here, Rice tells the Scholar about the evening she took this photograph.
I’m interested in the idea of community and in what people will do to find it—what drives people who are compelled to strike out on their own in search of it, and to leave everything else behind.
This photograph was taken on my first trip to the commune. The place is very much structured around the seasons. Summer is incredibly hot, and at midday you can’t find anyone; they’re all inside, resting after working on the farm. That had been a really hot day. After dinner I was sitting on the porch of the main building, and they invited me to go swimming with them.
Some people may see this photograph as a serendipitous moment, but it’s more than that. This community has taught me a lot about consent. Every physical contact there is consent based. You’re living on top of each other, and you need to feel safe and supported. There were a lot of permissions that were exchanged before this picture was taken; everyone gave the okay first. All the structure they’ve put in place allows these kinds of moments to happen. All of my pictures are exploring what happens when you create a safe space.
I see a lot of people go there and explore themselves. Some people change their names. Some change their hair every other week. You don’t have to conform to any standards. There’s a freedom there to expand and discover all kinds of things—about farming, about community, about yourself. It ends up being a place you go and do whatever. There are 27 acres, and you can just really disappear there. And some people do.
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