For most photographers, having their work featured in a television ad aired during the Super Bowl would be an end unto itself, a prime career achievement. But Birmingham’s Mark Gooch, who had several photos in a much-acclaimed Super Bowl XLVII ad for Dodge RAM trucks that paid tribute to America’s family farmers, said the real opportunity turned out be the work itself.
“It really challenged my political thinking,” Gooch said the day after the ad — entitled “God Made a Farmer” — aired. “It made me realize how little appreciation most of us have for farmers. They put the food in the ground and nurture it and harvest it. They raise the cattle and hogs and get them to market. They work unbelievably hard. It amazes me that there are so few taking care of so many. I won’t say that it’s changed my politics entirely, but I can tell you that I’ll never make another remark about farm subsidies.”
Gooch said he and the other photographers involved in the project worked under a very tight schedule and in extreme secrecy. He received the initial contact from Chrysler just before Christmas and began shooting on January 7 with a two-week deadline. With very few crops growing in winter in Alabama, most of Gooch’s shooting was done in Florida. In the course of several days’ travel with assistant Don Breland, he photographed farmers of corn, peppers, oranges, oregano, basil, celery, cows and hogs (the last at a Future Farmers of America event in Dothan that he tracked down from the road after a frantic call from Chrysler).
Gooch signed a nondisclosure agreement prior to beginning work, and had to ask each farmer whose work he photographed to do the same. Despite the secrecy, he said, all of the farmers he contacted cooperated.
“It was pretty interesting,” Gooch said with a laugh. “I’d get a farmer’s name, and I’d call him and ask, ‘Hey, can I come take some pictures of you and your farm?’ He’d say, ‘What for?’ and I’d say, ‘I can’t tell you until I’m done and you sign this agreement.’ Nobody said ‘No,’ but all of that kind of added to the adventure of it.”
Including Gooch, Chrysler hired 10 photographers to shoot for the commercial. Among that roster were some of the top names in the business, including National Geographic photographer William Allard; Kurt Markus, who has won numerous national and international awards and earned special attention for his work for Rolling Stone; Andy Anderson, whose commercial and artistic photos are internationally recognized; and Jim Arndt, a multi-award-winning commercial photographer who has also earned praise for his shots of Western locales and themes.
“Every business has its superstars,” said Gooch, “but those guys are really the cream of the crop. To be included in the same breath with them is really something for this fat kid from Mississippi. It blows my mind.”
Bringing such talent to bear on an ad saluting “people who are such an integral but forgotten part of America” speaks well of Chrysler, Gooch said. The expense of the photography, let alone the more than $4 million the company spent to air the spot, underscores the fact that the ad has a message that goes beyond selling trucks, he added.
“I think Chrysler did a pretty remarkable thing,” said Gooch. “The response I’ve had just on Facebook, especially from people who grew up on farms, or have farmers in their immediate families, has been really humbling. Working on it was a blast, but the way it has affected me goes way beyond that in so many ways. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity.”