Mountain Ranch a photography series by Michael Crouser
This is not the story of the modern cowboy but rather a small visual homage to the traditional elements of traditional American lives . I am photographing a way of life that will soon be found only in memories and stories, when the land these people work becomes more valuable and practical for development than for growing hay and grazing animals. My pictures are about Colorado ranchers and the animals they work with, the animals they raise for slaughter and the animals they guard against. The series is about the mending, by hand, of miles of barbwire fences, the abandoned homesteads still used for their water supplies and crumbling corrals by the neighbors who have stayed. The photographs are also about the mountainous landscape that frames and defines these people’s niche in ranching and which, ironically, because of its beauty and richness, and its desirability for development, may ultimately hasten the demise of this mountain ranching tradition. The men and women I meet in Colorado are often fifth or sixth-generation cattle ranchers, but it is a life that their own grandchildren will likely not have the option to choose.
The photographs in “Mountain Ranch” are shot on Tri-X film and realized in my traditional darkroom as toned silver gelatin prints. I believe that the manner in which I make these images is just as important as the final image itself. Or, as I say to my students, “How you speak is as important as what you say.” There is something basic and tactile to making photographs with traditional methods that feels correct to my sense of aesthetics, both in general, and specifically with regard to this traditional and tactile subject. After eight years of shooting, the series now stands at around 135 images, and I intend to spend the coming year adding to this number and, perhaps, finishing the work.
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