PDN Photo of the Day

Old Ways of Life on a Mountain Ranch

Michael Crouser spent more than a decade making the photographs in Mountain Ranch, his new book published recently by University of Texas Press. In it, Crouser documents life on family ranches in northwest Colorado, focusing on the seasonal cycle of raising cattle, on the men and women who do this work and the community they form, and on the breathtaking beauty of the natural environment. In Crouser’s images, cowboy life is deeply romantic, full of graceful men on horseback and cattle grazing on open land, but the images are also honest about the brutal and physically demanding work, showing the violence that comes with roping, branding and castrating cattle, and the rough, dirty labor of mending fences and birthing calves. Many images get close to their subjects, making compositions from the interchange between man, cow, horse and rope. Other images step back to reveal distant mountains and spectacular skies. He writes in the book’s afterword, “As this project progressed, I found myself intrigued not so much by the ways in which ranching life and work had changed over the years as by their constancy—the traditional elements of traditional lives, the raw and basic elements of a hard and basic culture.”

That interest in disappearing ways of doing things was also reflected in how he photographed the project. Crouser shot in black and white, using Kodak Tri-X film with either with a Pentax 67 or Nikon F4, and he describes his dedication to his materials: “Everything you do in the making of a photograph matters. For me, that means tactile photography. It means holding, loading, rewinding, and stashing film away in a pocket. Maybe even dropping the film accidentally in the dirt and going back to look for it. It means processing film in liquid, hanging it in air, and printing the image with light on paper. It means using chemicals that still remind me of the first time I smelled them forty years ago.” The result, he says, “isn’t retro; this is who I am and who I’ve always been, and whether the viewer knows it or not, these photographs are as much a reflection of myself as they are a record of the last vestiges of an American tradition.”

Related Stories:
Wild West College
New World Cowboys
Miriam Romais Documents a Woman’s Transition from Corporate Life To Self-Sufficient Farmer

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1 Comment

  1. Love the depth that the Tri-X film gives to these amazing photos Michael! Makes me want to dig out my old film cameras and get back into the darkroom.

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