Cowboy Chaps, O’Neill Rodeo

Cowboy Chaps, O'Neill Rodeo

Cowboy Chaps, O’Neill Rodeo

The bronc rider, weathered and wizened, struggled with his chaps’ leather straps as his time to get on in the chutes drew close, and the textures and shapes of American legend left me transfixed. So, as one would expect, I made an image.

Tough Hands No. 7

Tough Hands No. 7

Tough Hands No. 7

I think it’s inevitable that faith is an indispensable factor in the equation of ranching. After all, your life is tied to myriad forces out of your control: weather, disease, markets and luck. Trust and faith become more than a trivial matter, for you are left no choice but to admit the land and nature are larger than you.

Moreover, you’re reminded every morning and evening (on the back of a horse, if you’re really lucky) that the West is a magical place as the giant sun rises and sets amidst fiery-hued clouds on the horizon of one of the most breathtaking places on Earth, the American High Plains. One sunrise, the sunbeams breaking through the dark clouds onto a wide-sweeping vista, and you’re hooked.

Faith? Indeed. But a celebration of majesty as well.

Tough Hands No. 6

Tough Hands No. 6

Tough Hands No. 6

“His saddle was his most prized possession; it served as his chair, his workbench, his pillow at night,” wrote Geoffrey C. Ward, author of The West. Today’s ranch hands have more to their names, including trucks, trailers, smartphones, and computers. But the tack of the trade–saddle, blanket, chaps, bridle, and other gear–remains as the central object of pride in ownership for the American rancher, and the details of that pride are easily evident here.

Tough Hands No. 2

Tough Hands No. 2

Tough Hands No. 2

“That looks like an advertising image,” said Liz, my friend and fellow professional photographer.

“Maybe,” I answered, “but there’s a difference between an advertising image and this one.”

“Oh? What’s that,” Liz asked.

“Look at the boot,” I returned. “No advertising image could capture a boot that had been so ‘prettied up’ by ranch life. This is a document, not propaganda.”

Liz and I have shot together for countless hours, brandings upon brandings, landscapes beyond count, ghost towns unnamed. She sat and pondered for a moment, then spoke.

“Mmm-hmm. You’re right. That boot couldn’t be anything but real.”