Tag Archives: cowboys

The Ebor Campdraft

A few days ago I came across the Ebor Campdraft. Campdrafting is a competition in which highly skilled riders practice the craft of “cutting out” individual cattle from a group of animals by using their riding ability and the agility of their horse prevent it from following its natural instinct to rejoin the mob.

Having “cut out” the beast they then have to guide it through a course of right and left hand turns and through a gate. That’s about as much as this particular novice could make of the event after I stopped to photograph it on Saturday. Because the finals were to occur the following day, I drove back the 80 km from Gunnedah to take more pictures. Here are a few pictures from the event:

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Filed under Australia, Australian, Digital photography, documentary photography, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls, Stock photography, travel

In the eye of the beholder (part 2)

In an earlier blog article (In the eye of the beholder), I wrote about how the viewer of a photograph is often unaware of nuances within a picture which are privy only to the photographer and those with him at the time the picture was made. This photo is such a picture:

A French cowboy dozing in the saddle with a herd of white Camargue horses

I must have been just 12 years old when I first saw the Albert Lamorisse’s hauntingly beautiful film Crin Blanc (White Mane). Set in the salt marshes of the Camargue on the Bouche du Rhône, it is about a young boy who captures and tames a wild white stallion. Fifteen years later, on my way back from a pilgrimage to Barcelona to photograph the architecture of Antonio Gaudi, I convinced my travelling companions, Tony Hewett and Bruce Best, to make a detour through this intriguing region of southern Provence. I have to admit, they did not do this willingly. It took hours of argument, but eventually my incessant nagging, over a long lunch in Arles with much wine, wore them down.

Stopping only briefly to offer a lift to an Australian hitch-hiker we met by the fountain in Arles’ Place de Republique, we set off into the wild and beautiful wetlands of the Rhône delta. My winning card in the argument to divert our homeward journey through the Camargue, had been the promise that there would be picturesque French cowboys and wild white horses to photograph. I have to admit I was gambling that things had not changed much in the decade and a half since Crin Blanc captured my adolescent imagination.

I was in the front passenger seat navigating and had chosen a tiny back road through the marshes that I thought might provide some good picture opportunities. The road was rough, even by Australian standards. Although Bruce complained constantly about what this was doing to his suspension of his little Austin A40 estate wagon, he let Tony do the driving. It is probable that this may have been because Tony was the most sober of the three of us, but he too was no less strident in his complaints at the state of the road. Between the bickering, the hitch-hiker tried to earn his ride by making conversation. Despite his best efforts to be sociable he generally failed in his efforts to penetrate the acrimony being shovelled in my direction as the initiator of this expedition.

An avid photographer, Tony drove with his Nikon F in his lap. In the middle of his stream of complaint, some white horses came out from behind a sand dune. Following them was the full-on, genuine article: a gardien, a French cowboy asleep in the saddle. Très pittoresque!

“Fuck!” said Tony, grabbing his Nikon. To this day, I still don’t understand what went through his mind at the time. I know he was pretty excited by the picture possibilities. So excited that he didn’t bother to stop the car!

We weren’t travelling fast, when the car crashed into the ditch and rolled onto the driver’s side. While the passenger side wheels were still spinning, I stood up, opened my door (now the roof).  Like a tank commander, I poked my head out of the door/now hatch and began shooting. Tony quickly untangled himself from under my feet and joined me.

Without exchanging a word, we both stood in the upturned vehicle and photographed the cowboy and his horses until they were out of range. Only then did I turn to him and roar, “What the fuck were you thinking? You’re supposed to stop the fucking car before you take your fucking hands off the wheel to take fucking pictures. You fucking idiot!”

Neither the car careering into the ditch or my following tirade woke the cowboy. He rode on oblivious to the mayhem his appearance had caused. Perhaps he thought it was all a dream.

The Aussie hitch-hiker tangled up with all our baggage in the back seat was still pale with fear as we helped him and Bruce climb up out of the car and onto the road. You could see him wondering what sort of maniacs he had fetched up with and whether he was going to get out of this alive. Quickly improvising some trauma therapy we soon had him at work helping lever the car upright with the limb of a dead tree we found nearby. Bruce’s car was only superficially damaged and we went on our way. We were already laughing about it even as we approached Arles again. (This was only the first of three roadside ditches Bruce’s car was to visit on this trip…but that’s another story).

I often wonder whether that hitch-hiker, now an old man, ever relates the tale of his crazy ride through the Camargue and how he tells the story…

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Filed under Australian, Autobiography, documentary photography, Photographer, Photojournalism, Rob Walls, travel

Bucking horses and chunky cameras…

The Australian National Rodeo Championships, Cootamundra, 1964

The Australian National Rodeo Championships, Cootamundra, 1965

It was the summer of 1965. I had been a very green staffer on Rupert Murdoch’s newly founded national daily, The Australian, for a mere three months, when I was assigned to cover the National Rodeo Championships in the New South Wales country town of Cootamundra.

Arriving early, after an early morning start and a 200 kilometre drive from Canberra, I approached the ring boss, to introduce myself. He was a rangy, tall, laconic cowboy straight out of central casting, Marlboro Man in an Akubra hat. I asked whether there might be a good vantage point I could use to photograph the action. My hope was that he might give me the OK to shoot from the announcer’s box high above the arena.

With the faintest shadow of a smile, he said, “Right here’s good?” We were standing in the centre of the arena, which in about half an hour would be a scene of bucking mayhem as bulls and broncos did their best to get rid of the cowboys on their backs. I managed a nervous, “You’re kidding aren’t you?” “Keep your eyes open and your wits about you and you should be OK.” He reassured me.

The first riders were called and as that gate slammed open, and the first horse exploded out into the arena, I couldn’t think about taking pictures. I was much too scared. When the ride was over, I realised that I had managed to stay out from under the hooves and survived. I began to think about taking photos. After the third or fourth horse I actually found I was beginning to enjoy myself. But there were still the bulls to come. But with each animal my confidence grew.

Because of the pace of the events there were often a couple of riderless horses or bulls in the arena at the same time as the one with a rider. You not only had to watch the action in front of the lens but have an awareness of what was going on behind you. Maybe it was the adrenaline, but I found I developed a fairly certain awareness of where everything was and where to place myself to stay out of the way. There were a couple of near misses, but in the end it became all part of the excitement.

This picture turned up when I was going through some old prints the other day. It was taken with a 180mm lens. So what, you might think; a reasonably long telephoto. The thing is it was actually a 180mm Mamiya Sekor and it was on a 6×6(120) Mamiya C3 twin lens camera. To fill the frame on a 2 ¼ x2 ¼ inch negative you had to get quite close enough to make for an exciting afternoon, especially with nothing between you and all that plunging, bucking, thundering livestock.

The world is such an over-regulated place these days, the opportunity to get so up close to the action like this rarely occurs. Nowadays you’d have to shoot from behind the barrier and probably wear a hard hat and a high-visibility vest as well. It’s probably a good thing, but I can’t help but feel that in a society that seems to reject the notion of personal responsibily for one’s safety and actions, that so much of the enjoyment and excitement has been leached out of the press photographer’s job.

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Filed under Australian, News, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls