Fashion wear is really about new and “original” garments launched in some faraway place and featured on the pages of a slick magazine. However, first the new outfits have to be captured on film. And so it was in the 1990s that the fashion houses discovered the American West. It became the set location for the biannual introduction and display of new wardrobe collections, the new trends in luxury designs.
When the fashion editors discovered the West, they went looking for a genuine Western cowboy photographer, someone who knew the heart and practice of small-town cowboy life, “cowboy culture,” on vast cattle ranches—someone who was a true cowboy chronicler and well connected. Kurt Markus was their man. For 35 years he had photographed the buckaroos of Oregon, Nevada, Idaho and California; the cowpunchers of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona; and the cowboys of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Canada. Irrespective of the different captions these wranglers wore there was one common thread, according to Kurt: “They [these chaps] ride in the company of like-minded souls.”
While Kurt has enjoyed many lives as a photographer, his cowboy years were among his earliest. What makes his work so unique is that he photographed cowhands not as an outsider, not as a dude, but as one of them. Kurt hobbled, bridled and saddled his own horse, and rode the prairie lands with them. He camped and bunked on the range. He gathered, culled, roped, medicated, castrated, branded and earmarked calves, heifers, steers and bulls. He had his meals at the cookhouse or chuck wagon alongside them—biscuits and gravy for breakfast; spam, biscuits with corn inside, pickles and “a cake from headquarters” for lunch; and cast-iron-skillet hash, chili and beans for supper. He slept outdoors with “nothing but me and the stars.” He stared into open campfires; he learned to drink, smoke, laugh and bullshit. Together they weathered sleet and snow, rain and lightning, and sweltering heat. He became one of them and they bonded.
In this 35-year wrangler stint, Kurt didn’t do this on just one or two ranches—he photographed on the order of 30 or more of the largest ranches in this country. He deployed from deep South Texas to the Canadian border and in every state west. He earned his spurs. More importantly, however, he photographed cowhands, as one of them, on their home turf. He captured them on film as they see themselves.
KURT MARKUS: THE FASHION YEARS: 1987-2014
Exhibition Dates: June 17 – August 27, 2016
Public opening reception at VERVE Gallery: Friday, July 15, 5 – 7pm
Gallery talk at VERVE Gallery with Kurt Markus: Saturday, July 16, 2016, 2pm
VERVE Gallery of Photography
219 East Marcy Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501