Your first impression on viewing the "penny portraits" of rural folk taken by Mike Disfarmer in the 1930s is that they must be a different species from the humans walking around today.

These are tough, sober folk with faces that appear hewed directly from the earth. Damn, we let ourselves go.

And before you dismiss them as hillbillies in bib overalls, remember that Ralph Lauren claims Disfarmer's photographs inspired his style.

Disfarmer, who was a bit of a nut, took his portraits through a hole in the wall from his dark room. His subjects didn't know exactly when he flipped the shutter, which might explain their unforgettable expressions. One thing for sure, Disfarmer probably would never have dreamed of the impact he would have on American culture from his little studio in Heber Springs, Ark.

The UMFA show “Cleburne County Portraits” will give viewers a taste of the quiet power that inspired American masters including the Coen brothers and eclectic guitarist Bill Frisell.

Utah Museum of Fine Arts, through July 14.

Photo credit: Courtesy of UMFA