Cowboys (Jon Nicholson) pdf, epub, doc

The point of view of English photographer, Jon Nicholson, is that the traditional cowboy is being crowded out by the 21st century because urban sprawl, interstates, drought, environmentalists, and intrusive government are making ranching a thing of the past. So it's interesting to see what this Englishman sees in the viewfinder of his camera. In general, the 250+ color and sepia-tinted photographs in this collection don't really bear out his thesis. What we see is hard-working men and women with cattle, horses, and open countryside, much the same as it's all been for decades. This world may be vanishing, but it's hard to tell that from the photographs.

Nicholson visited the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, as well as a ranching state we don't normally think of - Hawaii. There are pictures of branding, riding, herding, feeding cattle, rodeoing, playing pool, playing music, boot making, sitting by the campfire, eating chow, and standing around talking or just waiting. Most of the pictures are what you'd expect. But there are exceptions . . .

You pretty rarely see a cowboy's tan lines, but Nicholson has caught them in a shot of a rancher who's cooling off by sitting in a stock tank. In a winter picture, the same man is seen fully dressed, standing in snow and chopping ice from a water trough. A picture taken from behind a herd of cows and calves moving into the distance gives an idea of what it was like on an old-time cattle drive day after dusty, scorching day across the open range.

A few photographs of distance capture the vastness of the Western landscape: heavy clouds hanging over the upright poles at each side of a double wooden gate, a windmill against a far-off ridge, jagged lightning striking from storm clouds along a flat, straight paved road aimed straight at a vanishing point on a flat horizon. Meanwhile, in Amarillo, the stockyards have the same effect, stretching out flat in all directions.

There are a few indications that times are changing. In Arizona, hand-lettered signs advertise a ranch for sale. A Wyoming rancher stands in a feedlot in a black cowboy hat while his 18-year-old son sits on the tailgate of a Dodge 4x4, wearing boots and a Bulls ball cap. A cowboy sits at a table drinking a longneck bottle of light beer. In another shot, a pickup with a stock rack heads off into endless, empty rangeland with the horse in back and the rider driving.

There's a lot to look at and enjoy in these pictures, whether you think the world of cowboys is vanishing or not, and I'm happy to recommend it.

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