cattle

Longhorns, Glen

Longhorns, Glen

Longhorns, Glen

I’ve been working in earnest on my new series, Recollections, an exploration of memory as it interacts with legend and tradition. This piece, “Longhorns, Glen,” is an example of how I’ve been visualizing the ways in which that theme can be expressed through symbols of the West.

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Tough Hands No. 3

Tough Hands No. 3

Tough Hands No. 3

In his landmark text Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig wrote, “I don’t want to hurry it. That in itself is a poisonous twentieth-century attitude. When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.” In essence, it’s a thesis in the examination of caring and quality. Quality only happens with the allocation of time.

My friend Liz, who went with me on this shoot, saw this photo and exclaimed, “Holy cow! How did you get the cowboy framed like that?”

The answer was simple. As my mentor, Sam Abell, taught me, I composed…and waited. Pirsig’s Law, indeed.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: In His Father’s Arms, Mansfield Ranch

In His Father’s Arms, Mansfield Ranch

This young man and his friends have been the subjects of many, many a photograph for me; one of my goals is to continually document these cowboys as they grow into men, with families and children of their own. Yes, the people of western Nebraska are very, very important to me, and although they don’t realize it, they also are very photogenic.

On a dreary and cold May morning, more than three hours into a long day of brandings, I caught the young man in his father’s arms as another calf met its time at the hands of the hands. The photograph shows a son and father connected, a fleeting moment where everyone can see the love shared between the two, a love made stronger by a ranching life on the Great Plains.

It is a photograph of a muse. If one is looking for one of many reasons I can never, will never bear that the PlainSky, Nebraskans project stop, this is it. It is a project of family, evoking a piece of Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man: The Family of the Plains.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Ray Semroska, Orella Road Pasture

Ray Semroska, Orella Road Pasture

Ray Semroska, Orella Road Pasture

Ray Semroska is veteran rancher whose family has lived and ranched in Sioux County since the 1880s, a claim few Americans can make as they climb the ladder of real estate and career toward that dream home in a gated community in the perfect school district close to the golf club.

Ray knows his land with an intimacy founded in generational memory: Every draw, every tree, every washout from the last heavy rain is precious for Ray. If only all of us still had that tie to the land.

I grew up in the same circumstances, using the few trees, deep draws, creeks and open spaces of the southeastern Sand Hills as my playmates, and I think those experiences provided the impetus for my passion to work the PlainSky, Nebraskans project. In short, I feel the land deeply.

So does Ray.

 

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Calf Release, Dawes County

Calf Release, Dawes County

Calf Release, Dawes County

I wrote yesterday about the two young cowhands I shot during a branding a few weeks ago, and here is another shot from that series. After branding a calf, one doesn’t just stand up–unless he or she would like a very angry calf running amok among the other folks working. So, as one lets up the calf, he or she grabs the rear leg and swings the youngster around toward the open ground past the work area, and the calf charges off. It’s a neat skill, and these two boys had lots of practice that morning, evidenced by this photo.