portrait

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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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.

Rodeo Clown, Pleasanton Rodeo

Rodeo Clown, Pleasanton Rodeo

Rodeo Clown, Pleasanton Rodeo

In today’s small-town rodeos, the traditional rodeo clown has all but disappeared. This young man was a remnant of that past, with his costume and painted face evoking memories of rodeos long ago, and I made several images of him during the evening, but the portrait continues to draw me back.

Cory Evans, Pleasanton Rodeo

Cory Evans, Bronc Rider

Cory Evans, Bronc Rider

I’ve watched Cory Evans, a cowboy from Valentine, Nebraska, all summer. He’s just as tough as he looks, evidenced by the fact he’s one of few cowboys still (relatively) uninjured at the end of this summer–a feat unto itself. What’s more, Cory’s a genuinely nice and down-to-earth human being.

So as one of the last rodeos of the summer in Nebraska kicked off, I asked him if I could make his portrait.

Rodeo Cowboy, O’Neill

Rodeo Cowboy, O'Neill

Rodeo Cowboy, O’Neill

I have a jones for documentary portraits; there’s just something in the eyes with good light and the spontaneous moments of people living their lives and their expressions and…well, you get the point. Everywhere I go, whether it be rodeos, brandings, family outings, or town gatherings, I’m looking for a classic face in the crowd.

And occasionally, I find one.

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 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.”