Every time I think my favorite places in the West are played out photographically, devoid of further inspiration for me, I go back and have to eat my words.
One of my best friends and I made a long photo journey to the northern Great Plains and Rocky Mountain foothills recently, looking for those elusive photographic treasures called “keepers.” On the way, we talked about innumerable things, but one of them was the Giant Thirst series, and how it continues to evolve. I channeled George’s wisdom regarding the wider world, and this image is a response.
We needed milk and eggs, but I never made it into the store.
I have just returned from a photo expedition intended to jump-start a new series, which I will not yet name in public. Why? As Robert Adams notes, if we must use words to describe what we endeavored to do in an image, we have failed. So I give you this photograph, and hope it speaks eloquently in the place of language.
I made a needed trip to Texas about a month ago, and had some needed time with some of my besties in the whole world: George, Melinda, Liz and Keira. But photographically, I’m currently in the creative wilderness, and the trip gave me an opportunity to make an image that expresses that sense of wandering.
I went to Texas recently with my good friend and former assistant Liz McCue to see several other dear friends, including two accomplished photographers, Melinda Green Harvey and George Nobechi Bumstead. On the way there, we drove through myriad small towns, but in one, took a wrong turn. As we looked for a spot to turn around, both Liz and I exclaimed at the same moment, “Did you see those chairs?!?!”
I learned long ago the Great Plains is populated by closet feminists, for here women are just as capable (and welcome) riders and ropers as men. Just watch a few breakaway calf roping performances, and you’ll understand that in the wide spaces before the Rocky Mountains, women need not pull any punches. Tough as nails and happy to prove it.
In his first Geographic story, Sam Abell made a photograph of his mud-splattered car as a response to the inspiration of Christopher Pratt, one of Canada’s most important modern artists. In the same spirit, while in the rain-soaked, mud-sodden region of eastern Wyoming in 2015, resulting in much the same pattern on my car, I made a photo as a tribute to Sam Abell’s importance to modern photography.
I recently wrapped up another stint of teaching at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, somewhere I feel most honored to be an instructor. But that’s not the point of this post. Color is.
Someone I met this year in Santa Fe noted that while I’m known as a black-and-white artist, I haven’t worked solely in monochrome, and what’s more, some of my best—best!—images are in color. Ironic, no? Yet, I often feel like Eeyore when I make such images.
“I might have known,” said Eeyore. “After all, one can’t complain.”
So when I made the above image and chose to leave it in color (which may mean it never goes in my forthcoming book about rural rodeos), upon seeing it, another person made a related comment regarding palette. “Oooh, color! That’s not like you.”
I really do love small rodeos. I have a lot of reasons: the metaphors of the West, the poetry of youth and bravado, the music of community and tradition. But there are times I’m presented with an image that leaves me breathless, for it combines many of those beloved reasons into a single image.
These young cowboys had been sauntering around the Elwood rodeo all night, and as the saddle bronc and bareback event drew to a close, the future rodeo stars congregated on the fence like so many grown cowboys I’ve seen before, but with the starry eyes of admiration seeping from every corner of the image. Hopeful rodeo heroes, I thought.
Future stalwarts of the West, these young men. Future stalwarts.