cowgirl

Sammy Geisler, Bronc Rider

Sammy Geisler, Bronc Rider

Sammy Geisler, Bronc Rider

One of the best parts of my photographic life is the people I meet on the road at rodeos, county fairs, brandings, and elsewhere. Every story is interesting, for each life is different. But occasionally, one story stands out, a story that is vastly different than others. Sammy Geisler is just such a story, for in all my years shooting rodeos, I’ve never met anyone like her.

She’s a bronc rider. The only woman I’ve ever met who was.

In such a legacy sport nearly universally dominated by men, being a woman comes with an uphill battle for respect and recognition that’s tougher than the men have had to face. That means she’s tougher than nails, to say the least.

And I simply had to make a portrait of that brand of strength.

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June Holeman, O’Neill Rodeo

June Holeman, O'Neill Rodeo

June Holeman, O’Neill Rodeo

Oh, June. A rodeo legend unto herself.

June is in her 70s, and still competes–no, not just competes, but is competitive–in the  Mid-States Rodeo Association. As of this writing, she’s in first place with $7,386.73 in winnings. And counting.

My sister, who is also very competitive and successful in rodeo (so far this year, she’s in 16th place), thinks June is amazing, and this is no fluke of opinion.

So in the 100-degree heat of the O’Neill rodeo in July, June prepared to compete in the barrels, and I took the opportunity to capture the hands of an icon.

 

Tough Hands No. 8

Tough Hands No. 8

Tough Hands No. 8

I would adopt the entire Meidell family if I could; after all, my book was as much about these five people as any others. Each member of the family is a class act, and photogenic in the extreme (though Tricia and Eric would argue that point). What’s more, all of the Meidells are, in the words of a man Eric once met in Washington, D.C., “Real Cowboys.” Those of us lucky enough to grow up with this life in the Great Plains often forget the legend into which we are born, and the Meidells have earned the hype. Need proof? Look no further than one of several saddles Tricia has won in rodeos.

The Meidells are indeed “real.”

Tough in the Saddle: Cathy Hervert, Buffalo County

Cathy Hervert, Buffalo County

Cathy Hervert, Buffalo County

As promised, here’s one of the last two images I made of Cathy Hervert, a ranch worker who lives in Buffalo County, Nebraska, but roams all over the state in living her ranch life.

Tough in the Saddle: Cathy Holding Her Saddle, Buffalo County

Cathy Holding Her Saddle, Buffalo County

Cathy Holding Her Saddle, Buffalo County

This is one of my favorite images from my shoot with Cathy Hervert, a treatise on the surfaces, patterns, textures and shapes in the artwork that is the American western saddle.

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. 1

Tough Hands No. 1

Tough Hands No. 1

I’ve spent the last several months exploring abstract relationships in the natural and human world, and with the onset of spring in the High Plains, I’m now back photographing the subjects I find most intriguing: the American West and those happy, hardy individuals who love it. Black and white “everyperson” shots have been nagging in my artistic vision for some years, and this spring I’ve begun exploring them in earnest. Contrast, textures, skin tones, and fabrics all beckon for imagery and attention, and I’m more than happy to oblige. I’m calling the project “Tough Hands.”

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Abby Meidell, Lusker Ranch

Abby Meidell, Lusker Ranch

Abby Meidell, Lusker Ranch

Abby Meidell is a bright, honorable and cordial young woman; she served as our “tour guide” at the Lusker Ranch the morning of the May branding, showing us the land, explaining the minutiae of life, and showering us with massive caramel rolls.

As the adults prepared to ride out to round up the cattle pairs for the branding, Abby stood talking with my assistant and me, and the corrugated metal of the equipment shed made a fantastic background with the morning light creating dramatic shadows in the building’s galvanized waves. Abby would normally ride that morning, but still recovering from a ruptured spleen, she was grounded. As the adults began to ride off, she looked wistfully back at them, and it was evident where she would love to be.