Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life

John Coffer is out of step with modern life - and that is just the way he likes it. Carol Crooker talks with John about his journey to contentment.

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by Carol Crooker | 2008-04-09 23:48:00-06

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PODCAST SPONSOR

This Podcast is sponsored by Big Agnes, makers of award-winning sleeping bags, pads and tents, offering innovative lightweight solutions for backpacking. Named after a peak in The Mt Zirkel Wilderness, Big Agnes is a small company located in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Spend a night with Big Agnes and you'll never want to sleep inside again. Visit us at BigAgnes.com.

Photos of John Coffer, his home, and his work

*Black and white photographs are of tintypes from the exhibit John Coffer: The Daily Tintype which is on display at the Gerald Peters Gallery in New York City from March 27 to April 26, 2008.

Click an image to view the slideshow

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 1
John Coffer’s log cabin is not wired for electricity. He hand washes his laundry and hangs it to dry outside all year round.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 2
A 19th century style tintype photograph of 19th century style winter underwear.*

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 3
John’s life is a mix of the old (mostly) with a bit of the new here and there. Here, a milk cow studies the solar panel that gives juice to the electric wire fencing her in.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 4
John has just finished coaxing a gallon of the freshest milk from Bossy.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 5
This tintype of a horse dragging a sledge of hay has color added by hand for effect.*

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 6
John poses in front of his wood cook stove while beans cook for supper. He charges the battery to his right with solar power and runs things like a radio tuned to NPR from it.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 7
This array of machinery, including a plow and manure spreader, are all horse drawn.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 8
John feeds sorghum cane into a horse powered grinder to make feed for the cows.*

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 9
The open air classroom where John teaches tintype and other old-time photography techniques to students from all over the world each summer.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 10
Tintype photography involves messy and caustic chemicals.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 11
A menacing scarecrow stands sentry over the remains of a small corn field.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 12
A wood pile representing hours of manual labor shrinks as it is whittled down stick by stick to feed the stove for warmth and hot meals throughout the winter.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 13
A dapper snowman in black and white.*

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 14
John cans vegetables he grows in his garden, maple syrup, and venison from deer shot with his muzzle loader rifle.*

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 15
A tintype self portrait.*

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 16
A farmer’s chores are never done, especially a farmer who lives the old ways.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 17
John thinks of his oxen as pets. He keeps more than he needs of these huge beasts and provides a nice home for them when they grow too old for labor.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 18
Most of the heavy farm work such as plowing and hauling wood is done by horses.*

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 19
The 19th century style traveling darkroom wagon John used on the road for seven years props up twenty-first century bicycles he uses for town visits.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 20
Making a tintype photograph of the hay stack.*

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 21
The boards for this shed were cut by a local Mennonite saw mill. Note the platform on the roof that offers a different perspective for taking photographs.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 22
A stop sign for horse drawn wagons.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 23
John built this one room cabin from trees he cleared from his land. The window under the eaves lets light into the sleeping loft.

Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life - 24
John comes back out into the cold to tackle some more chores.

As a young man, John Coffer lived in Florida in a two-bedroom condo and worked for a photography studio. He owned a sports car for fun and a van for hauling. He was living the American Dream, and he was miserable. Then he chose to change everything. He converted his modern possessions into a new life for himself. At the age of 26, with $125 in his pocket, he set off in the garb and with the gear of a traveling 19th century photographer. His horse pulled a darkroom wagon through small towns, and they camped in fields along the side of the road at night. John cooked over a campfire and read by kerosene lantern. He supported himself and his horse taking 19th century style photographs of civil war reenactors and average citizens.

After seven years on the road, John settled on land in the Finger Lakes district of upstate New York in 1985. He cleared trees, built a one-room log cabin and dug a well. Today he is still living a largely 19th century life but allows in some 21st century anachronisms. He works the land with horses and occasionally oxen, but uses solar powered panels to charge his electric fencing for the animal enclosures and has a laptop and website to promote his business: photography.

He uses a 21st century digital camera, but only to record each one-of-a-kind 19th century style photograph. John was largely responsible for the modern re-emergence of wet-plate colloidian tintype which has become a popular technique for many of today's old-time photo buffs. People from all over the world come to John’s farm each summer to study this style of photography. John's photographs have been displayed in numerous art galleries. His exhibit, John Coffer: The Daily Tintype, includes photos from his farm for each day in 2007. The photographs are on display at the Gerald Peters gallery in New York City from March 27 to April 26, 2008. The black and white photos seen here show samples from the exhibit.

John is living life on his own terms. He declared his independence from conventional choices at 26, freeing himself to live in the ways best suited to his unique personality. Making choices that were right for him, regardless of how unconventional, has brought him contentment and even fame. Lightweight backpackers are already accustomed to making gear choices that seem odd to others. John's story may inspire you to create an authentic life for yourself in the front country - even if that life appears to veer from the path to the American Dream.

You can learn more about John Coffer and his work at his website http://www.johncoffer.com.


Citation

"Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life," by Carol Crooker. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/podcast_making_unconventional_choices_better_life.html, 2008-04-09 23:48:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Podcast: Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life


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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Ads in BPL Podcasts on 04/12/2008 19:55:29 MDT Print View

Hi Everyone,

I appreciate the feedback about the advertising a LOT.

First, this is new territory for us, and our SOLE purpose with podcast advertising is singular: to help us pay for some of the bandwidth charges. SOME is the key word. Podcast production costs and bandwidth costs are increasing significantly. And I really, really, want to continue to make all of our podcasts free to anyone and not exclusive to members.

Second, after reflecting on your comments, and thinking about this some more, I have to agree that I think the podcast advertising in both the podcast itself, and on the web page featuring the individual podcast, is too intrusive. As such, we're listening, and there WILL be a change made before the next podcast is released in two weeks.

As always, thanks for voicing your opinion. I hope you know how valuable it is for actually helping us make decisions as a staff.

Best Regards,
Ryan Jordan

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Changes on 04/12/2008 20:38:14 MDT Print View

Ryan and co.,
Well thanks so much for listening to us and taking our recommendations under consideration. And thanks for a reply. I am looking forward to seeing where this all goes. It has been a great resource for me over the last seven years.

Joe Kuster
(slacklinejoe) - MLife

Locale: Flatirons
Making Unconventional Choices for a Better Life on 04/12/2008 21:49:24 MDT Print View

Ryan,

If bandwidth is a concern perhaps you should consider switching hosting companies? I'm not sure of the transfer here but I'd assume 10,000gb/mo would cover it?

Places like Lunarpages.com will handle up to 15,000 gb/mo (not a typo) on even their $6.95/mo accounts. I'm not affliated with them, but there are several hosting companies that do similar that I've had long term good experience with as a web developer. Dotster has terrible rates for medium sized sites in comparison but is good as a startup host.

Even if you were married to your current host you could host your media files elsewhere to relieve your bandwidth concerns.

Edited by slacklinejoe on 04/12/2008 21:53:15 MDT.

Casey Bowden
(clbowden) - MLife

Locale: Berkeley Hills
Ads in BPL Podcasts on 04/13/2008 10:11:06 MDT Print View

Ryan,

Do what you need to do inorder to keep BPL up and running, including ads in podcasts if that's required. I know that one tenet of BPL was no advertising but I would much rather see you change to survive than stubbornly cling to the past.

Keep up the great work.

Casey

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Ads in BPL Podcasts on 04/13/2008 15:05:14 MDT Print View

Look at the big picture: all forms of life sustain themselves through advertising. Feathers, fins, chest beating, howls, chirps, etc. Without such ads there would be no adds.

One (fe)male's annoyance is another (fe)male's attraction.

My grandmother used to love laundry detergent commercials on TV. She'd immediately insist we try the product and see if it worked.

And now back to the show...