Archive for the ‘Western Culture’ Category

Hollyhocks and Straw Bales
Hollyhocks and Straw Bales

My dear friend, Audrey Hankins, gave permission for her poem HOLLYHOCKS to be posted on my blog. This is the first poem I remember hearing Audrey recite. When I was photographing Wilbur-Cruce Spanish Barb horses by the Dragoon Mountains here in Arizona, I saw some growing by the stables and thought of Audrey. I plucked one stem and created this photograph just for her. Enjoy her poem! (© Audrey Hankins 2002. Do not print or re-post without permission.)

 Hollyhocks and old ranch wives,

Both thrive on so little care,

Bringing beauty to barren places,

Enduring year after year…..


They’re talkin’ again, the old men,

Reliving their glory days

Cattle they caught, horses they made,

Cowboy pride, cowboy ways.


An old wife moves among them,

Invisible but for coffee pot,

They don’t see her leave, or care that she goes

To smile and tend her hollyhocks.


She shares no glory stories,

Her choice, a supporting role.

Freeing her man to follow his call,

She felt privileged just to fill a hole.


She was the one left holding the gather,

For hours she’d highpoint alone,

‘Til  she often wondered if they’d changed the plan,

Forgotten  her and gone on home.


Ridin’ drag with her little kids,

She ate dust while planning meals.

No good hand could be spared for that,

He wouldn’t remember how it feels.


She did up the jobs left undone

By men with better things to do

Doctored horses, milked the cow,

Ran the kids to school.


She brushed the backs of  her bucket dogies,

The way mother cows lick their calves,

‘Til they glowed and gained on her tender care.

She never nurtured by halves.


Now her waist is thick, her hair is thin,

And her knees are stiff when she walks.

A solitary figure out in the yard, 

Humming and tending her hollyhocks…..

Hollyhocks and old ranch wives,

Both thrive on so little care,

Bringing beauty to barren places,

Enduring year after year.

 Audrey Hankins, 2002

 Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2004, COWBOY POETRY THE REUNION

To see more of Audrey’s work and read about her, visit her page on cowboypoetry.com


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Ron Olson and Cisco

Ron Olson and Cisco

     Ron Olson was kind enough to volunteer his time, and that of his horse Cisco, for a “model” photography session for a student of mine a couple of weeks ago. As that session was “micro-managed” I offered a session to him as a gift and promised we’d head out in to the desert just south of his home and “play”. On Saturday, May 16th, we did just that…my assistant (husband) and I following Ron into the desert at 5:15 am to catch the first light as it rose over the Santa Catalina mountains of Tucson.
     Growing up on the outer limits of northwest Tucson, horses were my greatest friends, partners and freedom. The ones who graced my life in true partnership were often ridden as close to liberty as possible. I learned from the horses to ask rather than demand, let them show me what they did as their natural best, and ride without getting in the way of the horse in them. Ron and I are kindred spirits in our philosophies of Equus. Cisco has not had the horse trained out of him, which I very much admire as I’ve encountered many horses that have come to me for training that are either so confused that they can’t even gallop freely in pasture or they have become push-button horses who would walk into a tree if you didn’t turn them. I often  rode with only a halter or a lead rope around their neck with my tack left behind on the branches of a tree. Reckless? Not with the horses I trusted. If a horse really wants to buck or run away with you, not the severest bit is going to help. Ron has almost been banned from trail rides when they’ve seen him ride up without a bridle or halter. I say almost. Once it’s shown how he works with his horse it’s obvious that he is a true horseman and his horse a true partner.
     I was impressed to watch him and Cisco as they came to a stop with no words or movement of the neck-rope, only a slight shift of weight in the saddle and the intent to stop. More impressed still to watch them move through the desert trails and off trail through the trees and brush with alertness, ease, and seemingly with none of the typical “cues”. As I never shared this type of riding with anyone, except as arena demonstrations, and have never seen anyone else do it outside an arena I felt blessed to photograph the two of them as they enjoyed the desert morning. Incidentally, Cisco was an “outlaw” when he came to Ron.
Ron and Cisco backlit

Ron and Cisco backlit

     When I discovered photography as a child, I followed all the rules I knew and made up what I didn’t. First and foremost, I was taught to stand with the sun behind me over my shoulder and concentrate on the subject in front of me. Long before I attended a workshop or picked up a photography book, I grew bored with that and started playing with the light after a few “accidents” became some of my favorite photographs. I am drawn to how the light paints and often am influenced by that light to move to where I like it best and THEN concentrate on what I photograph in that light. Challenging sometimes, yet I love the light that rims a subject when the sun is directly in front of me and also how the wash of light in side-lighting creates depth and texture. This image of Ron and Cisco was created about 10 minutes after the sun had crested the mountains as I stood under my Sunbounce mini reflector to eliminate sun flare. I thank my patient husband who got an arm workout as I moved to different positions and he held that reflector high and steady.
     This is another favorite from the session. The Santa Catalina mountains are ones I’ve lived close to since 1969. Here they serve as backdrop to a man and his horse as they ride through the rarity of open desert with the early morning sun bathing them in soft light. The colors are complimentary, with Ron’s shirt connecting with the sky, the bit of red drawing the eye to the horse, and the black standing out in sharp contrast to the gentle shadows on the mountains. When photographing black horses, I underexpose by at least 1/3 stop of light and in this image I brought it down by 2/3 stop to ensure a deep black.
     It took years for silhouettes and I to become friends. I’ve always loved the look of them, yet I struggled to create ones that I felt were worthy to join my portfolio images. A silhouette is so different from a “lit” image and often people and animals need to be positioned more carefully and sometimes in ways that feels a bit awkward to show detail. A leg forward more or a face aligned just right or an arm lifted away from the body to show spacial definition. I tried many ways to properly expose these particular works of art, including simply underexposing them. The ways that work best for me are to expose on the sky and then set the camera manually for that exposure or for a faster solution I expose on the sky/hit the exposure lock button/auto focus on my moving subject and I’ve got my silhouette.

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Audrey Hankins: First Light

Audrey Hankins: First Light

     Audrey Hankins is a woman of leather and lace. Leather saddles, lace kitchen curtains. A cowboy poet who first impressed me with her poem Hollyhocks as I sat in the audience at a cowboy poetry gathering and who later impressed me with the way she brings poetry into her every word and gesture, I am blessed to know her now as a dear friend.
     When Audrey approached me to provide the photography and design for her first CD of cowboy poetry, I felt honored and was excited. I knew that the vision I had for this project would fit her very well. Good friend to both of us, Jim Jones, would supply the music to dance around her words and recite one of her poems as well.
     For a project like this, although I can do all the photography for a CD in one session, I prefer to spend some time with the artist. For Audrey, I visited her at her home in Wickenburg and stayed with her for a few days, photographing in several locations and talking until the wee hours of the morning about our lives and her dreams for this CD as we sat at her kitchen table and started to bring the images and design together.
     Audrey’s son lives in a nearby “horse town” and we went there so I could photograph horses, cattle, and a windmill for the center foldout in the morning light. I worked with the image to create a sepia toned artpiece with “hand colored” horses. The next morning, pre-dawn in uncomfortably cold weather, we headed into the desert east of her home and I laid on the ground, face down in the dirt and stickers (almost backed into a prickly pair as I moved to find the perfect composition), and created an evocative sillouette of Audrey in the first light of day. When we got back to the house and warmed up over coffee and toast, I brought up the images for her to see. Until then, she had another title for the CD. The image that is on the back traycard of her CD got us to talking and inspired her to rename it after one of her poems (the first poem on the CD), First Light. The blessing of that image made the cold and stickers insignificant. The cover/autograph page/inner traycard images were created at the ranch of her close friend Suzi Killman, western singer/songwriter and daughter of equine artist Hildred Goodwine. Audrey loves the cover image as she says it conveys a “come on in and have a cup of coffee” welcoming feel.
     The CD turned out to be as “Audrey” as can be…warm and welcoming and full of stories that are like the woman herself, a bit of leather and lace/sunshine and strength. First Light, which includes 17 original poems, is available for $17 postpaid, from Audrey Hankins, P.O. Box 688, Congress, AZ 85332. You can find out more about Audrey, read a few of her poems, and take a look at her poetry books here: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/audreyhankins.htm#Light

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Rusty McCall at family ranch in NM

Rusty McCall at family ranch in NM

     Heart Sessions are photography sessions that are donated or deeply discounted for people and animals who have touched my heart in exceptionally meaningful ways. These sessions are often donated, including travel and Artist Choice images when I can afford it. Large prints and other desired media/merchandise is deeply discounted for the recipients. The resulting images are also provided for press releases, publications, and websites gratis, with only the request for photographer’s credit and proper respect/credit given to the Heart Session recipient.
     I devote myself to documenting and honoring culture and spirit in all of my photography and I donate time/services/photography to many rescues and cultural events and altruistic offerings. What, then, is different about Heart Sessions?  These sessions are very specific “calls to action” inspired by direct experience and/or from hearing about the person or animal(s) from those who’ve lives have been touched by them. Often they are given priority over my own scheduled work and  personal needs due to circumstances that precipitate planning quickly. Sometimes I get a few days to plan it out yet many of these Heart Sessions have occured within hours or even minutes from the time my heart was first moved by these exceptional souls.
Examples of Heart Sessions:
     In  the image you see here is Rusty McCall, a 22 year old seventh generation rancher and Cowboy Poet. At four years old, his mother Deanna held him up to the microphone at the Elko Cowboy Poets gathering and so became the youngest cowboy poet to perform at Elko. He is a bit wild(normal for his age and gender) and does best out on his horse riding the circle on his favorite horse (shown here), Pardner. There will be at least one entry devoted to Rusty here in my blog, so watch for that. The short(er) story, for this entry’s purposes, is that I met Rusty a couple of years ago at the Prescott gathering in August and was immediately impressed by his charisma and talent and the way he brightened the day of anyone he met with a smile and a joke…and it was evident by watching him that his friends were true and loyal, earned by Rusty through his ethics and devotion to them. The only place this young man sits in the middle is on a horse…everything else about him goes to the extremes of serious grace and exhuberant laughter. The year I met him he had been diagnosed with neurofibromatosis (tumors on the nerves, in his case in the brain) and he had some paralysis on the right side of his face with some related sight and hearing problems. Last year, he had brain surgery and had to go through an extensive recovery period.
     This year, when he found he needed another intensive surgery (brain) he made the decision to do so after three western gatherings, Elko, Cochise, and Alpine. He made it to Elko and I was looking forward to seeing him in Sierra Vista for the Cochise gathering, but he was not well enough to attend. It was there that I spoke with his mother Deanna about coming to NM to photograph him at their ranch. Diane Tribitt wanted to do an article on Deanna with a portion of the article dedicated to Rusty and they spoke of making that happen. Shortly after the Cochise gathering, I drove to the McCall ranch in NM and spent a few days with them photographing Rusty up horseback as well as with his mother and father and their horses. Rusty surprised me with his willingness to try anything and once I turned around to see him jumping Pardner off a wash-bank with ease and perfect balance (Rusty has balance issues). So, when I laughed and asked him if he’d be willing to do it again, he did…five more times! Rusty cannot be kept down in body or spirit.
     When I returned to Tucson, Rusty was ever on my mind as I thought about the Alpine gathering coming up in just one week. His last performances before his surgery, just three days before in fact. I talked with my husband who immediately said to go. I was un-decided as my heart said I MUST go and my brain said I couldn’t afford it. My heart and the blessing of my husband won out and I drove to Alpine, TX, for the gathering. Every time Rusty had a performance I was there to photograph him. He was on the main stage on Saturday night and after a phenomenal recital of a poem joked with the audience. “Some of you know I’ve had some physical challenges lately and I’m really glad to be here. In just a few days they are going to do brain surgery on me. I don’t know why since I don’t have a brain.” How could I NOT donate Heart Sessions to a young man like this? One print I have gifted the family with, so far, is a 16×20 mounted photograph of the one heading this entry…an image to inspire him to work towards getting back on Pardner to once again ride the circle. (Read up on Rusty’s progress in upcoming entries here and on this page: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/mccalls.htm  There will be an upcoming article on Deanna and Rusty McCall in I.M. Cowgirl, by Diane Tribitt and I will be donating images to that article. I’ll update you as I find out more about the issue it will be in.) The following images are of Rusty in Alpine, TX for the Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
Rusty at Alpine Gathering (With close friend Gail Steiger)

Rusty at Alpine Gathering (With close friend Gail Steiger)

Other examples of Heart Sessions include a 14 year old Irish Wolfhound who was blind and deaf and had been the primary companion for a widow, an octogenarian Cowboy/Cowboy Poet who has long inspired me and others with her fortitude and ability to trail-blaze who went riding in the desert about an hour north of me (an opportunity not likely to present itself as she lives in another state), a 27 year old gelding who had helped “his woman” to ride through the obstacles life was challenging her with, a western singer/songwriter whose deeply compassionate nature touched all who met him as he fought cancer. (The Western world mourned when we lost him four months after his session. His widow now has a book full of 8×10’s of him that bring her joy.) Spirit moves me to continue these Heart Sessions.

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Georgie and Sam Heading Out

Georgie and Sam Heading Out

     During the Heart Session I did with Cowboy/Cowboy Poet Georgie Sicking, I created this image of her and my good friend’s fiance Sam Scott (Diane Tribitt’s beau) when they were heading out to enjoy a ride in the desert in Florence, AZ on February 9, 2009. Titled “Heading Out”, the brilliant blue sky with gold tones of dust and horse blended to make a piece of art that moved my heart to share it with Margo Metegrano of cowboypoetry.com. This month, the photograph is featured in her Art Spur project, published on cowboypoetry.com here: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/artspur.htm  Please visit cowboypoetry.com (you’ll get addicted!), follow the poems that come in for Art Spur and while you are there if you start clicking on the poet’s pages and gathering reports, you are bound to come across a bunch of the images I’ve donated to the site over the last few years.
     Diane Tribitt will be using this image as the cover for her upcoming new poetry book, also. Diane is a Minnesota poet, writer, and rancher and she was present when the photo was created. Georgie is a dear friend of hers. She’s also the Senior Executive Editor of “I.M. Cowgirl” magazine (www.imcowgirl.com). Her latest CD is “Ranchin’ Rhymes.” Read more about Diane Tribitt and her poetry at www.dianetribitt.com. 
She wrote a poem inspired by Georgie and this image, which I’m honored to share with you here:
Headin’ Out

Throughout her life she’d been condemned
for havin’ cowboy dreams
But she fulfilled her destiny,
enduring all extremes

She lived for ropin’ cattle, and
she roped ’em with be best
Tied ‘t burrows, cows and mustangs,
surpassing every test

She’s thankful God has blessed her with
the opportunity;
for cowboys who had taught her and
a mom who’d set her free

to live the life she dreamed of
with horses, cows and rope
as a lady and a cowboy,
on horizons brimmed with hope

She taught her kids to understand
the only life she knew
and blessed them with the gift of being
“you, and only you”

Each time she passed the reins to them
she made sure she was near,
yet far enough away from them
they wouldn’t sense her fear

She has loved some horses dearly
and disliked quite a few
She has lived by cowboy ethics
Honest, loyal, tried and true

Though she is blind, now, she still sees
what some refuse to see
for her soul was borne of nature
and her spirit’s proud and free

She was born to be a cowboy
and there ain’t any doubt,
When most old hands are headin’ in
they’ll meet her, headin’ out

© 2009, Diane Tribitt, All rights reserved

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Sherry Cervi her stallion, Dinero

Sherry Cervi her stallion, Dinero

Sherry Cervi is featured in the May 2009 issue of Western Horseman. The opening page “double-truck” image and one of her sitting by her tack room are my photographs. The images included here are personal favorites.

     I was contacted by Western Horseman late last year to photograph national award winning barrel racer Sherry Cervi. I met with her and WH journalist Melissa Cassutt the night before the sessions to get to know Sherry a bit as I’d heard much about her and her family (they live about 15 minutes just west of me) but had not yet met her. Sherry is a lovely, talented, and very compassionate gal who has lived through the tragedy of loosing her  husband Mike Cervi Jr. in 2001. Her love and passion for animals is evident in the companion animals who surround her, including her horses, and in the way she speaks of animals in her life currently and who’ve graced her life previously. A mature, bright young woman, she can be very serious yet has Painted Ponies lining her shelves and lights up when her French Bulldog, Frannie, jumps into her lap. We exchanged hugs and smiles and I said I’d be bright and early the next am to start.

     Having yourself and your horses ready for a pre-dawn photography session is not easy and truthfully I often don’t get the light I desire for my clients in these sessions as they race to finish up the fly-wipe applications and last minute make-up touch-ups. Hopefully they’ve been kind to their horse and given them a breakfast snack about an hour earlier so they aren’t too ancy. So when I showed up about 1/2 hour pre-dawn and did my last minute equipment checks, I was surprised to look through my truck window and see not only the WH writer but also Sherry, a friend to assist, and two horses ready to go! The marks of a pro evident in the way she moved in the pre-dawn light led me to admire a woman who works hard for her success. Moving out to a field to photograph her the second the sun peeked over the Santa Catalinas, as her Palomino stallion PC Frenchmans Hayday (“Dinero”) had many of his “groupies” in the barn calling out for him. Not difficult to get him to perk his ears toward the other horses, although a bit challenging to get him to stand still. He is one of those 15.2 hand horses who present as 17 hand horses, standing as a stunning frame to Sherry’s own considerable height.

Sherry Cervi with Jeffrey and friends
Sherry Cervi with Jeffrey and friends

     Once back at the stable area, I photographed Sherry in various locations including up on the hay bales with her very friendly barn cats. The night before, I’d asked Sherry: “I know you’ve been photographed hundreds of times. What would YOU enjoy most, personally, that would show who you truly are?” She thought about that and answered that she’d love to have a photograph with her and her animals. Not the brilliant, dynamic image of her racing barrels or the sun-kissed portrait of her looking like a model…she wanted a true image of her love of her critters. The image included here is the realization of that desire. Here Sherry sits in her Mother’s backyard with her mini horse and mini donkey and her new 13 week old addition to the family, a cuter than cute pot-bellied pig named Jeffrey. Although I have hundreds of images of Sherry from the morning and late afternoon session, ranging from classic to charming, this is one of my true favorites of the day.

You can see more images of Sherry on my website, PhotographyByFaith.com, and on pages 94/95 and page 98 of the May 2009 issue of Western Horseman Magazine.

PS: As an interesting side note, Sherry is part of the Potter family who own a ranch in Marana, AZ and are part owners of Ocean Spray Cranberries. When I mentioned the Potter Ranch to my husband, he knew of them as he comes from WI where they have their cranberry farm and one summer long ago he worked in their cranberry bogs…says it was one of the best times of his life. Small world, mmm?

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