horses

Diversity

Diversity

Diversity

One of my dearest friends announced his retirement today, and I’m devastated. Heartbroken.

The moment has left me pondering the temporary nature of our perceived permanence; in other words, our propensity to assume, incorrectly, the relative order of our lives. And yet all is entropy in the end.

It made me think of this image, one I made this summer in response to the timeless, yet disparate nature of the scene at hand.

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Wild Horse Race, Bartlett

Wild Horse Racing, Bartlett

Wild Horse Racing, Bartlett

I love shooting rodeos–after all, they’re the subject of my next book. And at rodeos, wild horse races are by far one of the most energizing, terrifying events for a photographer. Horses and people bucking and running and shouting and riding all mean lots of danger, and that’s a certainty if one isn’t careful.

But the photos are worth it.

Ranch Rodeo Horses, Dawes County

Ranch Rodeo Horses, Dawes County

Ranch Rodeo Horses, Dawes County

In the wake of a chilling summer storm, and with the prospect of a muddy evening of ranch rodeo in front of them, teams lined up for their rules briefing at Crawford, Nebraska. Yet, the ranch horse is a smart horse, and these appeared to be as intent on listening as the riders.

Tough Hands No. 10

Tough Hands No. 10

Tough Hands No. 10

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Bad weather makes good pictures. It’s a lesson taught to me by one of the greats at National Geographic, Sam Abell, and Sam’s not often wrong. So on a cold and windy early June morning, the clouds in the background and the collars turned against the cold added up to an iconic image of real cowboys really cowboying in one of the great ranching landscapes in the American West.

The PlainSky, Nebraskans Show: The Complete Works No. 20

Horses and Gathering Storm: PlainSky Nebraskans No. 20, 24" x 16" on Red River Polar Luster

Horses and Gathering Storm: PlainSky Nebraskans No. 20, 24″ x 16″ on Red River Polar Luster

I couldn’t resist the chance of making a black and white image of dark horses against the light colored Sandhills and a growing thunderstorm in the sky, the horses’ tails perfectly matched as the plains wind played with them.

Sergio, Lusker Ranch

Sergio, Lusker Ranch

Sergio, Lusker Ranch

Sergio is a character cowboy: funny, mischievous and genuine. During a brief respite at the Lusker Ranch branding in May, he said, “You know, I was a National Geographic centerfold.”

Intrigued, I asked for more details; Sergio was featured in 1993 as part of the story “Wide Open Wyoming,” photographed by Richard Olsenius. Sergio was carrying a mailbox across a road, and found it funny that such a picture emerged from his experience with the magazine.

“The photographer spent five or six days with us, and I end up in the magazine carrying a mailbox. Funny, eh?”

I imagine Olsenius found Sergio as photographically intoxicating as I did, and much of the branding, I made images of him. He’s not a Nebraskan, so he won’t feature in the Plainsky project, but he certainly will find a place in others. I chose to publish this one first as a character introduction to such a fascinating subject.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Horses and Building Storm, Grant County

Horses and Building Storm, Grant County

Horses and Building Storm, Grant County

As I pursued a storm moving east through the Sand Hills, hoping for more images, these two horses staring down at me from the top of a grass-covered dune stopped me in my tracks. I scaled the 30-foot dune, and as I did… the horses fled.

No matter.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Horses, Rails and Gathering Storm, Grant County

Horses, Rails and Gathering Storm, Grant County

Horses, Rails and Gathering Storm, Grant County

An interesting part of living in Nebraska is the size of the sky, and with that size, how much more dramatic our storms are as they build. Moreover, that combination of sky and storm often requires photographers to break one of their cardinal rules: photographing more  than one hour after sunrise. In Grant County, on a Wednesday morning, this storm began its life as I passed these horses and meager ranch, and the sun rays dappled through the burgeoning atmospheric cataclysm to illuminate the horses for fewer than 60 seconds.