APRIL 3 –OCTOBER 17, 2004
VAQUERO: Genesis of the Texas Cowboy
SOUTHWESTERN & MEXICAN PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
Photographs by Bill Wittliff
Today in the United States and in much of Mexico, with the prevalence of wire fences, corrals, working chutes, grazing systems, and docile breeds of cattle, the old horseback skills are in large measure obsolescent. But they continue to pull at our imaginations—at least the imaginations of those of us who, in one way or another, have an emotional stake in the American West.
—I had a used Nikon I’d bought when our son Reid was born two years before, so by then I knew the basics of photography, though I had not yet learned that good photographs are made by the eye, not by the camera.
—The ranch itself was 360,000 acres without a cross fence. Everything that grew out of the ground had thorns.
—Most of what we were seeing of the cow work had long ago disappeared in Texas, and one had the feeling that it was disappearing here, too.
—Everything was pretty much done in the old ways, though there were small concessions here and there to the ‘modern’ world, rubber tires on the chuckwagon being the most obvious.
—Initially I rode with the vaqueros, thinking a horse would be a good moving platform from which to photograph, but the vaqueros, by looks and frowns, let me know they thought a horse was more properly a moving platform from which to work cattle. I couldn’t both take pictures and work cattle without offending them, so I turned my horse back to Cuco, the remudero, and from then on I did my picture-taking afoot.
—I never saw an airplane fly over. Not once. This added to the illusion that I was walking through the long ago.
—I made my camp away from the vaqueros’ so my stuff wouldn’t get in any of the pictures. Just before sleep every night I’d try to imagine what I might see the next day that’d make a good picture. A number of times I got very close to the picture I had imagined—but then the use of the imagination has always been a form of conjuring.
—I never knew even one of the vaqueros who wished he were doing something else to make his living.