Stephanie Hagenbarth, cowgirl from “Still:Cowboys at the Start of the Twenty-First Century”, (c) 2008
This week’s artwork selection, a tintype photograph by Texan and National Geographic contributor Robb Kendrick, is inspired by my 6-day stint in Grapevine, Texas.
“Cowboy” is synonymous with “American.” The cowboy is a character born in the 19th century, but who continues to epitomize the American spirit. He wrangled the wild west in chaps, boots and trusty hat. He tamed wild painted ponies and kept the law on its toes. He was a renegade, a maverick, a loner, a man’s man, a rugged and self-sufficient individual who answered to no one but his maker. The Cowboy was America’s ambassador — we sent Wild Bill and his Wild West show over to Europe, and eventually, Italians would become the greatest directors of the American Western film genre.
By using a photographic technique that renders (as it requires) stillness, Kendrick’s images capture the timelessness of this American persona. Tintype is a 19th century photographic process and is strangely appropriate for portraits of 21st century cowboys. The aged sepia glow and blurred peripheries of the images make us believe these are portraits of individuals who have been lost to time. It has been over a century since the last massive cattle drive, yet the cowboy, his mythology and his culture endure. At the same time, the professional cowboy — the cattle driver and cattle wrangler — is a dieing profession. Kendrick’s photographs are intimate, animate and respectful. There is an aura of folklore about them, but an emphatic reminder that these legends are still very much alive in the modern, relatively tamed 21st century.