Cowboy

Cowboy and Ferris Wheel, Elwood

Cowboy and Ferris Wheel, Elwood

Cowboy and Ferris Wheel, Elwood

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.”

Oh, bother.

Rodeo Roper Family, Arthur

Rodeo Roper, Arthur

Rodeo Roper, Arthur

A storm rolling in on the horizon, a rodeo roper, his wife, his dog and his portable steer offered a compelling chance for an image with insights into the summer rodeo life in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Jim, Cowboy Bunkhouse, Sandhills

Jim, Bunkhouse

Jim, Bunkhouse

It was 4:50 in the morning, and the coffee was hot. Jim and the other two cowhands were dressed and awake, the morning light barely evident outside, and the conversation between the four of us was made of staccato sentences. Cowboys say little, I have found, for unless words need said, they are frivolous residents in an otherwise truthful life.

Jim slowly rose, and asked, “Enough light?”

The others nodded. They rose, pulled on their boots, and began their saunter outside to saddle the horses. It was time, and Jim paused for a moment in the empty kitchen as the day began.

Tough Hands No. 21

Tough Hands No. 21

Tough Hands No. 21

Branding season is back, and with it, my next installment of the Tough Hands series. I’ve tried to expand my view for this year, focusing on the textures and tones of the weathered, hardy individuals who inspired the series at its start.

Spring in the Plains is Back: Sid, Adam Ranch, Sandhills

Sid Thurston, Sandhills

Sid Thurston, Sandhills

Ah, spring in ranch country. My assistant and I had been on the road for four hours, and as the sun’s first light began revealing the details of Nebraska’s Sand Hills at 4:30 a.m., I remarked to her that the smell–oh, the smell–of new plains grass in the cold, clean air was a welcome reminder of the scents from my own childhood. Nectar for the nose, I said.

Later, as the branding wore on, I had found my classic faces in the group and I asked Sid, a careworn, intelligent and respected rancher to step into the shed and make a portrait or three. He graciously accepted, and the light in his eyes reflected a life well-lived.

My Next Solo Show: Rural Impressions

Badge of Membership, Eddyville Rodeo

Badge of Membership, Eddyville Rodeo

My next solo show, Rural Impressions: Images of the American West, opens closer to home than usual, since it’s at the Graham Gallery in Hastings, Nebraska. It’s a collection of more than 40 images from different series of work over the last five years that examine the complex relationships between the rural West and the land itself. The reception is 6-9 p.m. on April 5, so if you feel like buying a plane ticket or hopping in the car, I’ll be happy to offer you a handshake, hors d’oeuvres, and a drink.

The show will include a number of my pieces from Rural Rodeos, such as the one above, a young man at the Eddyville Rodeo who already displayed the price of entry for the life of a cowhand.

Tough Hands No. 11

Tough Hands No. 11

Tough Hands No. 11

I haven’t posted much from Tough Hands for a while; it’s tough to make more during the school year. I’m hoping that will change during the holidays.

That said, this piece reflects the notion of commitment in ranching life; it is a metaphor depicting “for better or for worse, in life and in death” on myriad levels.

Clint Connolly, Pleasanton Rodeo

Clint Connolly, Pleasanton

Clint Connolly, Pleasanton

Rodeo cowboys, wrote Norman Mauskopf in his seminal photographic text Rodeo, have a different understanding of pain than does the general public. Injury is part of the game, the price of admission to live the caricatures and legends of the American West.

I’ve published an image of Vince Connolly, a veteran cowboy from Arthur, Nebraska, at the Pleasanton Rodeo previously. That rodeo was important for Vince, since his sons were each riding events that weekend. His son Clint rode bulls–with a broken jaw–and I couldn’t resist making a portrait of pain paired with legend.

Published at National Geographic: Vince Connolly, Pleasanton Rodeo

Vince Connelly, Pleasanton Rodeo

Vince Connelly, Pleasanton Rodeo

Last night was a good night: Chris Combs and the editorial staff at National Geographic’s Your Shot chose my image Vince Connolly, Pleasanton Rodeo for the story “The Night.” See the story here at National Geographic.

Are my feet still on the ground? Yup. After all, as Patrick DeMarchelier always says, “You’re only as good as your last photograph.”

Keep shooting.

Cowboy, Eddyville Rodeo

Cowboy, Eddyville Rodeo

Cowboy, Eddyville Rodeo

I like subtle images that require contemplation, and this is one. Modernity mixed with tradition, iconography with rural loss and rite of passage. Look closely and think; take time to ponder the notion of objects within this context.

Cryptic, right? Images are good puzzles, and it’s why I’m a photographer.