A civil engineer in heart and mind, David Farmer has a coffee table book worthy collection of a unique set of photographs: manhole covers.
Executive: David Farmer, 54, has been CEO of Metro Forecasting Models in Bonita Springs since 2017. The company provides forecasts on development demand, population growth and housing demand for communities nationwide. A certified city planner, Farmer has almost three decades of experience in real estate development, planning and civil engineering, modeling, and infrastructure design and construction.
‘Wherever I’ve landed, one of the first things I seek out, even in the airport parking area, is the manhole covers.’ David Farmer
Diversion: Photographing rare and unusual manhole covers around the world. “Where people took time to do something special but they didn’t have to, that really catches my attention,” he says. “It takes time and energy to do this; these people care about their infrastructure and they want it to be known as unique and special.”
Open it up: Over his career, Farmer has seen a lot of American infrastructure. “The most common manhole cover has an S in the middle of it,” he says. “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen a million of them.” But when visiting family in Italy in 2014, he began to notice more unusual examples. He started photographing what he found and sharing it online.
Keep an eye out: Once Farmer started looking down, he began finding lots of examples in Europe. “So many towns have their own unique manhole covers,” he says. “You find more of a flair for design.”
Favorite finds: Farmer is a fan of Pisa’s manhole covers, which are rectangular in shape with a cross-shaped design in the center. He also admires one he found in Austria accented with stones. “It’s very cool when you start to notice the differences in them,” he says.
Trusted technique: Whenever he travels, Farmer’s always ready to hit the ground running, you could say. “Wherever I’ve landed, one of the first things I seek out, even in the airport parking area, is the manhole covers,” he says. “It’s one of the top things I do when I first land.”
Timing matters: Farmer doesn’t want shadows in his photos, so he takes pictures either in the late morning or afternoon. He also has to make sure it’s safe for him to step into the street to get his shot. “My wife has yelled at me more than once for being in the middle of a roadway,” he says.
An engineer’s perspective: Farmer uses an iPhone to get his images and draws on his professional experience as he’s photographing. “As a civil engineer, I have often had to document projects,” he says. “So I’m good at photographing infrastructure, because I know what people need to see.”
Sharing what’s underfoot: Farmer posts some of his pictures on Facebook. “Some people send a selfie,” he says. “I’ll send a picture of a manhole cover so you don’t have to guess where I am. It’s my way of checking in.” He now has hundreds of photos he collects primarily for his own enjoyment. “But my friends tell me I need to make a coffee table book or something,” he says.
A little help from his friends: “People definitely think of me when they see manhole covers,” says Farmer. “I have half a dozen people who, from time to time, will text me or tag me in a Facebook photo of a manhole cover to say something like, ‘I was in Russia and thought of you.’ And I very much appreciate it.”
Down the road: Farmer would like to see some of the Japanese manhole covers friends have told him about for himself. He’d also like to go back to Russia, which he visited back in the 1990s with a roommate from Bulgaria. “I wouldn’t mind going back there and discovering things I know are probably interesting, but I just wasn’t thinking about it in the same way back then,” he says.
Lasting impact: Farmer takes his photos primarily for himself. But if they help others to focus on the importance of infrastructure, that’s an added bonus. “When you develop property and think about infrastructure, you need to be thinking more than 20, 30, 40 years down the road,” he says. “It’s hopefully going to be in place for hundreds of years. You want to be mindful when you plan out infrastructure.”
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