PDN Photo of the Day

New World Cowboys

In his new book Cowboys of the Americas, published recently by Greystone Books, Luis Fabini describes the motivation that led to his ten year journey photographing men in South and North America who embody “the spirit of the gaucho, the legendary horseman of these vast stretches of grassland,” as he writes. While cowboys often inhabit stories about the past, Fabini found a range of people living today by the same code of toughness and independence that have made cowboys into icons for the last hundred years. In his images, men, horses and the cattle they drive are framed by Ecuador’s immense volcanoes, vast Canadian prairies or Brazil’s wetland Pantanal. “Today we find the gaucho as a wanderer, horse tamer, cattle driver, and fence builder, doing jobs that give him autonomy and require minimal obedience to civilized society,” writes Fabini. But the culture is far from homogeneous. As Fabini’s images show, ethnic backgrounds and styles of dress vary from country to country, as do the words that describe these men. As he writes, “In Uruguay and Argentina, these men are called gauchos. In Chile, they are huasos; in Brazil, pantaneiros and vaqueiros. Ecuador has its chagras, and Mexico its charros. In the United States and Canada, these horsemen are known as cowboys.”

In an essay, Wade Davis provides a detailed account of horses and their long relationship with humans, dating back 55 million years to horses’ first fossil relatives and proceeding through their domestication, their use in war and their introduction to the Americas. Davis gives an equally precise description of the cultures that have grown up around horses in the countries where Fabini photographs. As he writes, “The lives of the vaqueros portrayed in this book are not about money or fame but rather about honor, freedom, and the luxury of open space. They dwell in the thin places between the civilized and the wild, loyal to everywhere and nowhere, finding shelter within a triangle of mutual devotion—man, horse, and the wild. They are, as the gauchos say, the land upon which they tread. It is this that makes them truly and uniquely American, products of the New World, cowboy sons of all the Americas.”

Related Stories:
This Is Bliss
Horsemen of the Americas
Out West: Lucas Foglia’s Frontcountry

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