Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1902, Joseph C. Farber he attended the New York Military Academy, and later Columbia College, where his formal studies included chemistry and art composition. While these were excellent preparation for subsequent employment in the family business, Friedman Blau Farber, Manufacturers of Knitted Outerwear, at Columbia he discovered the true love of his life, the art and craft of photography. He became involved in the New York Camera Club. For the rest of his life he would consider himself a protégé of the Club's resident guru, famed photographer Edward Steichen. Farber's work was first shown in the Fifth Annual Exhibition of Work by Cleveland Artists and Craftsmen at the Cleveland Museum of Art in late spring 1923, and he taught photography to summer campers. Later, throughout 39 years of employment in the garment business, he continued to enjoy and practice photography, especially in making portraits of good friends. He married Caroline Feiss, also a Cleveland native and a promising watercolor artist. In 1939 the Farber's moved to New York.
According to his daughter, Dr. Joan Farber, her father purchased a large format Linhof field camera during a 1958 visit with his son Thomas in Germany. The Linhof camera front can be shifted to provide corrections for architectural photography which are not possible with smaller cameras. After Joan headed to college the Farbers had time for increased travel. They were accompanied by their daughter on a trip to Greece in summer 1960 which included photographs of herself, an attractive, sophisticated college coed, stylishly dressed and coifed for the occasion, posed on the steps of the Parthenon. A trip to Spain the following year resulted in many dozens of 35mm color images, part of a large group of travel slides.
This was also the period in Farber's life that a whirlwind round-the-world trip was undertaken, with visits to Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Hawaii, and California. By the end of the next year, the Farbers were renting as a vacation home a converted button factory in Essex, Connecticut, a former shipbuilding town on the Connecticut River, as a vacation home. Within months Farber had retired from his design and executive responsibilities at the Campus Sweater and Sportswear Company in Manhattan to live for a year in Essex. There were also trips more abroad, particularly to Greece and Egypt, while the Farbers continued to maintain an apartment in New York. Climbing a mountain in Greece in summer 1967, Farber suffered a heart attack, from which he fully recovered.
In 1969 his new career was launched by the publication of
Portrait of Essex
by Barre Publishers. Local historian Marie Moore supplied the text to accompany Farber's evocative photographs of the ships, shops, shores, streets, and historic structures of this seafaring town. His brother-in-law Carl Feiss, F.A.I.A., furnished the Introduction.
In 1971, Farber and Wendell Garrett published his first Jefferson book,
The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson
followed by their second,
Thomas Jefferson Redivivus
Garrett, who edited the Adams Papers wrote the text, with the help of excerpts from the writings of Jefferson himself. The following summer one of Farber's Monticello views was featured on the cover of
. In 1973 Farber was credited with three covers and a frontispiece for the magazine, as well as three photographic essays. The subjects ranged from Sculpture at the Boston Atheneum to The Villas of Andrea Palladio to The Architecture of Lavius Fillmore Garrett introduced Farber to Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer who hired Farber as photographer to help illustrate his Prints of Abraham Lincoln, which appeared in the annual presidents' birthday number of Antiques the next year, February 1974. Some Contemporary Paintings of Abraham Lincoln appeared twelve months later. Three more Lincoln-themed articles appeared in February issues of
in 1978, 1979, and 1980: Sculptures of Abraham Lincoln From Life, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and Here Lincoln Lived: New Salem and Springfield, Illinois.
Two more books of Farber's photographs were published in 1975.
Democracy's First Struggle
was an account of the Peloponnesian Wars in the words of Herodotus, as edited from the Aubrey de Selincourt with translation by Farber. The photographic images dated back to the family trips to Greece in the early 1960s. Native Americans: 500 Years After was published by Thomas J. Crowell in 1975 with text by Michael Dorris. Following Native Americans came a series of exhibitions of photographs from the book including shows at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution), Dartmouth College, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History .
Also in the mid -1970s a cover story in
entitled "The Architectural Heritage of New York City" led to an exhibition at the Abigail Adams Smith House. In the late '70s two more exhibitions were staged, featuring scenes of local color at the dedication of the East Haddam (Connecticut) Historical Society in the summer of 1979 and showing buildings by Palladio at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum (New York City.)
In 1980 Farber's interior view of a basilica, Palladio's Redentore church in Venice, was featured on the cover of
. The photographs became the subject of a book, Palladio's Architecture and Its Influence authored by architectural historian, Henry Hope Reed.
Harold Holzer organized many joint photographic trips revolving around Holzer's career in the public relations department of Channel 13, New York's public television station. Each summer for four years in succession they set off to diverse spots to make publicity shoots for upcoming special programming. First was Missouri to photograph Mark Twain sites for a dramatization of "Life Along the Mississippi". The next summer they headed to the Berkshires to document The Mount, the home of Edith Wharton in Lenox, Massachusetts, around whose life and work a mini-series in three parts was planned. The summer trip of 1982 was a return visit to Massachusetts to photograph The Street, Deerfield's historic thoroughfare, combined with a side trip across the border to the Robert Todd Lincoln home, Hildene, in Manchester, Vermont.
In 1982 Farber was commissioned by
magazine to photograph the Mark Twain residence in Hartford. Farber and Holzer succeeded in the early to mid-1980s in getting Farber's out-takes from their Channel 13 trips published together with his carefully worded scripts in such periodicals as
American History Illustrated
The Arts Weekly
. Many of Farber's pictures were printed in articles in
, to which Holzer was a regular contributor. In 1983, when Farber turned 80, his color images of the interior spaces of the Metropolitan Club of New York were published in a book by the same name, written by Paul Porzelt. In his travels in the last decade of his life he was often accompanied by family friend Ethel Phillips, including a tour of Great Britain in the summer of 1987. With Mrs. Phillips he at one time had contemplated publishing a book on the historic mansions of the Hudson River. Two other unrealized projects, upon his death in 1994 at the age of 91, were books on the classical architecture of New York City and on the history and daily lives of Hispanic Americans in the United States.