Tough Hands

Sid Thurston, Ashby

Sid Thurston, Ashby

Sid Thurston, Ashby

I simply must make images of Sid Thurston. His hands, his face, his character and his life are all intoxicatingly photogenic, and this image–hopefully, for everyone–proves the point.

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Tough Hands No. 21

Tough Hands No. 21

Tough Hands No. 21

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.

Tough Hands 2014: Here We Go Again

Tough Hands No. 14

Tough Hands No. 14

It’s been a long winter. I’ve been sick—so has my family—and the extended, dry cold weather hasn’t helped. Spring is hinting at its return, and with it comes my favorite season: branding. I’ve already set up one shoot at the Adams ranch, a sprawling, treeless expanse in the Sandhills, and I’m working on several others for late May. There simply isn’t much that is more photogenic than real working hands and horses, in my book, and the above image from the Pyle / Meidell branding in 2013 is a reminder of the allure of spring in the West.

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. 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.”