I have just returned from a photo expedition intended to jump-start a new series, which I will not yet name in public. Why? As Robert Adams notes, if we must use words to describe what we endeavored to do in an image, we have failed. So I give you this photograph, and hope it speaks eloquently in the place of language.
Rodeo stops for nothing. Nothing.
A massive storm rolled through the skies over Arthur, Nebraska, for the Saturday performance at the rodeo, complete with massive wind, torrential rains, and…lightning. Big bolts of lightning. But no one moved, especially the cowboys.
And so the festivities continued, and so did I, photographing–and I was rewarded with the storm and sunset and visual drama and…this image.
Many thanks to the Greeley Rodeo Committee for giving me carte blanche access to their rodeo this year–the shots were worth it and people were fantastic!
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.
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.
It was only 35 degrees on the late-May morning as we rode the sandy waves of the road that traveled over the treeless northwest Nebraska High Plains to the Meidell’s place. A long line of trucks and trailers greeted us as we pulled up, while riders and their horses milled about excitedly as the work of the branding loomed in the barely-light, windy morning chill. Soon after, the riders left to round up the cattle, and as the first group was brought to the corral, Tricia Meidell and another rider watched vigilantly for any strays that might escape.
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.
“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.”
Two men, two boys, one horse and rider. Sitting and resting before the branding began, these two men looked up as a horse and rider galloped past, while the two boys seemed indifferent to the world around them.