Broken Banjo Photography

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Paul on the Ridge: Rifle, Colorado

This is Paul.  The former president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, I met him in 2009 in the town of Rifle.  He was being interviewed by myself and Kacy Spooner for the "Stewards: Stories and Perspectives on American Agriculture" project.  Offhand, I do not recall who it was that gave us Paul's number, but when we called around to the regional agricultural organizations, somebody said, "You want history about farmin' and ranchin'?  I got a guy for you..."
This portrait took about 8 minutes and two small handheld speedlights.  Working on a budget, the lights were a LumoPro 160 and a cheap 30-year-old Vivitar, bought at a thrifty camera store.  Expressing that I wanted a good photo, Paul drove us up to this point.  He is talking to Kacy (he just liked to stand this way, and needed little direction).  I used manual settings on a Nikon D300 to get a good exposure for the sky (the sun is directly above us, as seen by the shadow on his chest), and made sure his hat totally shaded his face from the sun.  With radio slaves, I hand-held a flash aimed at his face, while Kacy stood to camera left and aimed a vertical beam at his body.  The photo took very minimal retouching later, mostly just to bring some detail out in the clouds.
We met Paul at a local gas station, where we parked our car and hopped up into his pickup truck.  He took us to his favorite restaurant, which happened to be located on a golf course on the edge of town; sitting on the veranda, the server brought him his usual and we made observations of the incredible geologic formations ringing the golfing green.

We spoke in deep detail about farming and ranching issues...the finer points of which will someday be transcribed on the Stewards well as about other local problems, such as the fracking going on in the local shale deposits.  But the story that stuck with me the most was the one about his pack horse, lost decades earlier on the ridge that you can see here in the distance.

When Paul (pictured here in his 70's) was a teenager, on one of his earlier herd-tending treks in which he had heavy responsibility, he was tasked with directing a number of cattle up a winding trail on a shale-based slope.  Back then and, to a lesser extent, sill today, cattlemen set their herds loose on public lands for the grazing season, sometimes with a worker to live out there and check in on them..  Months later, the rancher and team would return for the roundup, tracking the cattle by brands.

On this particular journey, pushing those cows upward, one of Paul's pack horses hit a loose spot of shale.  Even a horse, known for quick recovery, is not immune to gravity, and Paul saw/heard the animal fall to its death.  He then dealt with the grisly need to get himself down the hill again and recover his belongings and goods from the horse, as well as deal with the fact of the body and his emotional attachment.  A classic cowboy, respect and appreciation for his animals ran deeply through our conversation and through the story that he has been telling for fifty-odd years.
Photography on a budget: you can do it!  The two flashes used here cost just around $140 (new) and about $25 (used), respectively.  I was using Cactus Radio Triggers and a Nikon D300, with (believe it or not) a kit lens.  It's all about understanding light.  And about figuring out your subject as fast as possible.  From exiting the truck at this previously-unseen location to calibrating my settings and getting these shots, only around 8 minutes passed, leaving the rest of the day for conversation and story.

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