THE IRREVERENT GUIDE THAT TAKES NO PRISONERS
The North American Cowboy: A Portrait, came out in 1983 and immediately captured an eager audience with it's stark, black and white tintype photos depicting hands, cowboys and buckaroos across the country. Dusard, a self taught photographer, earned a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pulitzer Prize nomination and a couple of book awards. Having studied with Ansel Adams and Frederick Sommer, he established himself as not only a consummate creator of images, but one of the greatest black & white printmakers.
With work published, exhibited and in collections worldwide, Jay Dusard is best known for his black-and-white images of working cowboys and landscapes of the North American West. Jay taught photography for seven years at Prescott College, Arizona, and has conducted workshops for over 30 years. In 1992, he was nominated for the Kodak World Image Award for Fine Art Photography. Jay Dusard lives with his wife, Kathie, and their horses near Douglas, Arizona, where he finds time to punch cows and play jazz cornet.
Jahiel came to the Great Basin to artfully capture it's dying gasp of big outfits running big crews with wagons over big country, before it all broke up, got sold off, and reduced to it's present state of affairs. His haunting black and white photos featured in his out of print collector's classic, The Last Cowboy, pay tribute to many a buckaroo and cowboy long dead. Adam's extensive and beautiful oeuvre can be viewed here. He also hosts photography workshops.
KURT MARKUS: What Becomes A Legend Most?
No more canned peaches for this guy...
It’s like this about Nevada.
She’s like a come easy woman. Seducing, voluptuous, with deep mystery in her eyes, tossed back on that blood red velvet fainting couch; pearly arms open to any man to give him that un-judged first go, to see what he’s made of. A kingmaker, or a breaker of souls, spirit and flesh. If you came here an outsider and a dreamer – a wannabe – the lure of the desert big buckaroo outfits had its claws in your gut, and nothing but a stint on the IL or the Circle A and a monthly drunken haze at Shorty’s elbow while he kept your glass full in The Commercial, would cure it. When you could recognize Fritz Marek’s voice in a crowded bar room, you knew you were close to becoming the Mayor of Elko. You came, you saw, you conquered. Or maybe you left shamed, with your tail tucked. Or maybe you were drug off kicking and screaming by a new Nebraska homesick bride, waiting for the break to come back again. And then, maybe you stuck it out and stayed on in Nevada like a wino that owed six months rent at the Pioneer Hotel.
Or maybe you were luckier than most, or accidentally born here.
But in the 1970’s and 1980’s, most of us buckaroos weren’t. We weren’t born here. We had to migrate here. And Kurt Markus did too.
I think it was the issue of The Western Horseman with Mikey Thomas’ speckled gray horse ground tied by a hair mecate and crowned with that single rig glory hole up top that did most of us pining wannabe’s in for good. When we opened that issue up, there was no dallying around on the boot ads or the Editor’s piece; no, you went straight to Kurt’s monthly buckaroo fix on The Big Out There and its shadow watching, silver dripping Knights of the Sage. You scrutinized his photos for hours – days – weeks, memorizing every nuance, from under-slung Blucher boot heels to how many coils were in a guy’s rope.
The photos hid the Colorado photographer from most of the world.
But a few chosen ones were granted the gift of some time with The Western Horseman Shadow Catcher when Kurt Markus showed up in a rental car or a truck, and unloaded the cameras and gear for a stay at a ranch. The unassuming manner, the soft-spoken voice, still didn’t entirely cover up a West Point man’s all-observant eye and an athletic build. Okay, so his riding get up was less than forked or Capriola’s best at the time, but we accepted that; hell, I spent my first years grinding circles and pounding leather on a cutting board no less – too poor to buy my first custom Bob Kelly yet. If it was a Tex Tan he was riding, so what - we really didn’t care; there were bigger fish to fry, and the aura about this guy made up for his non-traditional Great Basin gear.
Again, in those days, the lot of us came to this floozy state that welcomed all, from outside, just like Kurt. If you were one of us Californians, they showed you no mercy. This was pre-Vaquero revival days, before the clinics and the 12 inch fringed “armitas” and the aura and hype that surrounds a “Californio” today. Not then. Back then they were merciless. They called us Pruneys, and said we were “from the land of fruits and nuts, steers and queers”. If you lasted at all, and made a hand, eventually the kidding subsided. Texans usually suffered an even greater fate – shot-gunned Levis shoved into 18” tall Paul Bonds were a hard to resist target for mockery - and the “inbred leppy farm types” from Iowa, the Dakotas, Kansas or Montana either stuck it out on rough horses or were shamed out of Elko County.
Kurt had a presence about him, amongst us buckaroos, even with the humble air. What I recall set him apart from many other, later photographers, was his chameleon ability to literally, become one of us. No easy task. Remember, this is the Great Basin buckaroo – in all his glory and grime - shunned by historians and all but ignored by most in film and print. A closed society of wayward drifters glued to saddles, half-cocked high from sniffing too much sagebrush and cross-eyed bedraggled from trailing 10,000 head of mother cows. A way of life that had not had light shed on it’s Stetson Open Roads, 65 ft reatas, quirks, quirts and pride, until someone named Allard started taking photos and put them in a book (“Vanishing Breed”). A decade later his incredible photo of Claude Dallas in bright green woolies would take on more historical weight than it did the day he photographed Dallas and Clark Morris heading and heeling a bovine on the desert.
Most of America had never heard of John G. Taylor, the IL Ranch, Roaring Springs, the C Punch, the Tejon Ranch, Miller and Lux or Peter French, but by Gawd, we had. We lived by those icons and anything Arnold Rojas said or wrote, was considered canon – “We roped anything, anywhere, anytime…with a serene disregard for consequences” - the rest of the world could go piss up a rope with the Alamo and the Chisholm Trail, thank you very much. The Pacific Slope set was prettier than most cowhands with all that silver and tooled saddles, and the romance of Old Spain wafted through our horseback culture like gardenias blooming on a summer night. We preferred to cling to bear roping, spade bits, Mormons buried in basements and a dying Basque culture with it’s Picon Punches. Just toss in the strumming guitars and the fandango scene with Tyrone Power in The Mask of Zorro and you have the idea. Cowboying – how it was meant to be.
If no one East of Salt Lake City or South of Tonopah understood us, tough luck. We understood us. That was all that mattered. Markus understood us.
When Kurt started to put us center-fire riding flat hatted leppies in The Western Horseman Magazine – whoa, Nellie - that, some cynics claimed – was the beginning of the end of the ION, but hey - those were the cynics. Not all felt that. Others swelled up with the sudden fame. “Its about time they realized all cowboys ain’t from Texas!”. This was no fancy expensive coffee table book available only to the wealthy, but an affordable monthly rag we all could wrap greasy and blood spattered hands around at the end of a branding. Trying to read it all at the same time and sometimes ripping pages as one fought for possession over another.
“Did my picture get in it?” “What outfit did he do this month?” “Am I really that fat?” “Shit! Look! My fly was open!”
Kurt’s articles morphed into trips to Jordan Valley Rodeo where he would set up a camp tent and lure us inside with promises of little cinematic fame, zero fortune, but hey, the chance to be captured in time. The closet egomaniacs most of us were, we bought it, hook, line and sinker. Hard eyed staring into the black and white lens, trying to look like this was something we did every day, but in truth, sweating like a pig and nervous as hell. Except those who were, shall we say, properly imbibed – they felt nothing, and only occasionally can an experienced and trained eye look at a Markus photo and pick out the drunk from the sober.
Regardless what the latest crop of buckaroo photo junkies may claim, Kurt Markus started the stampede. More than anyone else, before him or those that followed, Kurt Markus put the buckaroo and buckaroo culture, on the map. Well, it was already on the map; he just helped the blindfolded world find it. His articles and photos made the compass and printed the driving directions. No GPS coordinates worked out here, and this was way before Google Earth.
But he did more than document us. He became one of us. Sitting in the Silver Dollar or Stockmen’s, nursing a beer, elbow to elbow with Brackenbury, Bates, Symonds, Harrison, Maupin…we listened to this man and he had dreams, and drama, and hopes and fears, just like we did. He didn’t judge us. He watched us. He documented. He took a photo and when it came out of his darkroom, something had happened. Something had changed. A guy couldn’t put his finger on it, or pluck letters out of the air to build the right words, but there was a soul added to the print, an angle, a light, that suddenly made something common, stupendously big, or out of the ordinary. It haunted you. It made you go back and look again. And again. And…..again.
When his hardback book - now considered a collector's item that retails new for just under $1,000 - After Barbed Wire came out - that cinched it. Who ever doubted his potential, was damned and slunk off to hide. We knew now when Kurt Markus showed up in Battle Mountain or Grandview, Alturas or Paisley, Bakersfield or Lovelock, we were in the presence of someone gifted, and just starting to hatch. You could see the potential even then, that led him off of the Big Nasty, hangovers and chuck wagon grub, to bigger and more exotic locales. No more canned peaches for this guy. Nope, now it was New York and London; anorexic German models and stark African portraits; rock stars, Merle Haggard, and Ralph Lauren. We heard he did “fashion shoots” but no one was wearing chinks and Rick Bates and his tablecloth-sized wild rags were not on the menu. We missed him, but the perceptive ones, I think, we sensed early on Kurt Markus was way bigger than a sale at Anacabe’s, a good bronc ride or a run of luck at the Winner’s Casino in Winnemucca.
In recent years, after a long hiatus from the buckaroo world, Kurt came back to us. I should say, those of us still here – hell, God knows we’d all come, gone, and come back. His Big Outfit Cowboy slide show appeared in Elko at the Western Folklife Center during the poetry gig. Suddenly, his photos are cropping up in Bill Reynolds artful journal, Ranch and Reata. He is in the darkroom again, pulling out more magic – the world has seen but a smidgen of his buckaroo and cowboy repertoire. Unseen treasures await us. There is word…..oh, hushed yes, but rumored word….that he’s working on something new from his halcyon days documenting desert dwelling wino cooks, the Rez boys who’s shots never missed and pool hall dandies draped in spurs and dust.
Welcome back, Kurt. We missed you. For some of us, you have never left. We might walk by a certain barstool in a certain establishment, and remember you once sat there, or someone retells a tale of a long circle and bitter cold and frozen hands around a campfire, and you were there, too. There are line camps and old Spanish forts where your camera worked its wonders, that your spirit still haunts. You may have not buttered everyone’s toast out here, but for some of us you were more than a passing celebrity picture taker who put the buckaroo culture out there for the world to fawn over and lust to be. Nope. You were more – much more. You were a friend: trusted, respected, admired - and what passed between you and us horseback vagrants who called you a friend, was deeper than a mere nod hello, a stiff drink or a bawling calf being drug to the fire.
What becomes a legend most? You did, Kurt Markus.
Brenda M. “Two Rein Jane” Negri
Winnemucca, Nevada, April 12, 2016
The top five modern day photographers of working buckaroos and cowboys - men who defined the genre, set the standards, created timeless art - and who were followed by a generation of endless copycat imitators.
Perhaps the leading photographer of the American cowboy in the 1970s was Bank Langmore (b. 1935). From his home base in Dallas, he traveled some 20,000 miles across the western United States capturing cowboys with his Minolta 35mm camera. (Minolta supplied him with free cameras.) His work was published in a book entitled The Cowboy. Like many photographers he was a perfectionist, and his prints are absolutely gorgeous. For various reasons he has been inactive for many years, and his prints have become rare.
WILLIAM ALBERT ALLARD
William Albert Allard's beautiful book Vanishing Breedcaptured the waning years of big outfits in Nevada in the 1970's. He's often remembered for capturing photos of an Elko that is long gone (the Cloud 9 bar), and Claude Dallas in a pair of dyed green woolies, working on the Circle A wagon under cowboss Brian Morris and his brother Clark. His stunning works may be viewed on his extensive website, here.