Tough Hands: Hat and Hands

Hat and Hands

Hat and Hands

I’ve been fascinated with the meanings of textures for as long as I can remember. What is it to fill a frame with brick? Is it brutality, urbanist, cold, stalwart? So many textures render subtexts we scarcely recognize, but still understand.

They are subtle reminders of the lives we live, or those we observe.

So on a hot and humid summer night, the textures of a Resistol straw hat in the hands of a cowboy who was riding in bronc events at a rodeo caught my eye and my lens. He toyed nervously with the brim, flexing it, twisting it, and after watching for a few moments, I made this photograph, a treatise on the textures of the West.

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. 4

Tough Hands No. 4

Tough Hands No. 4

Jim had great hands.

James Stanfield, a National Geographic photographer, once noted how a crowd would have only a few classic faces within it, and I think this extends to hands. As a result, I often begin looking at hands and faces when I’m presented with a new venue, and at my last branding–a large one with more than 35 people working–I found several of each.

Back to Jim. He was castrating calves for part of the morning, and would come back to the antiseptic bucket near the fire to clean his hands and knife. It had been deeply overcast and cold early, and nearly everyone wore gloves, so I missed Jim’s gnarled, strong, creased hands. But near 9 a.m., the weather had warmed, and the gloves came off. And I found hands.

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: Bloody Hands, Kreman Ranch

Bloody Hands, Kreman Ranch

Bloody Hands, Kreman Ranch

For the uninitiated, I’ll begin this caption with an explanation: At a branding, one of the critical procedures on “eligible” calves is castration. Not a big deal, right?

Nope, unless you’re the one with the ultra-sharp scalpel performing fast surgery on a 200-pound writhing animal that is simultaneously scared and angry. Oh, and it needs done in fewer than 60 seconds each time, and repeated perhaps 100-150 times in a single morning. That was this man’s job at the Kreman Ranch on an early May morning.

And his hands show it.