Tough in the Saddle: Boot, Buffalo County

Boot, Buffalo County

Boot, Buffalo County

Last night I had my first shoot of my next book, Tough in the Saddle, a book about working ranch women in the American West. More is to come, and since a book is an ever-changing process (goodness knows PlainSky, Nebraskans turned out far different in the end than I envisioned four years earlier) I thought I’d begin by presenting an image very different than others I’ve published here–one of the boots worn by my first portrait subject. Be gentle.

Tough Hands No. 2

Tough Hands No. 2

Tough Hands No. 2

“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.”

The PlainSky, Nebraskans Show: The Complete Works No. 24

Maddie In Boots: PlainSky Nebraskans No. 24, 18" x 12" on Red River Arctic Polar Satin

Maddie In Boots: PlainSky Nebraskans No. 24, 18″ x 12″ on Red River Arctic Polar Satin

As evening drew to a close, Maddie Meidell, her sister Abby, and their cousin Angela were anxious to show their photos to my assistant Liz and me. Rushing out from the house, I chuckled at the realization of how ranch life permeates the girls’ existences, for while city folk would put on flip-flops or sneakers, the three girls pulled on boots in spite of their shorts. As I looked closer, I became enthralled with how the brown boots moved to the brown-and-turquoise, then on to what became my chosen focal point in the image, Maddie’s full-on turquoise boots with spurs peeking out from the forest of legs in front.