For Phoenix-area photographer Scott Baxter, photographing the cowboy lifestyle is less about capturing an image to sell than it is about developing a place in the culture.
“To me, it’s more about a relationship than it is grabbing some kind of photograph,” he says. “The majority of the people I work with are friends. I’m trying to pay it forward. It’s more about the people. I love being around them. I’m not a cowboy or a rancher, but there’s a history with ranching and the cowboy—it’s an iconic subject and I’m drawn toward how they live their lives.”
Baxter’s first project, a book titled 100 Years, 100 Ranchers, was released with Arizona’s centennial celebration in 2012 and focused on the state’s ranchers. Along the way, in addition to the ranchers, he met scores of working cowboys, who gave him the inspiration for his next project, called Top Hand.
“For the book, I was photographing the ranchers and not the cowboys and day workers,” he says. “So the Top Hand project is working cowboys and it was just a natural progression.”
The portraits are shot on film and developed using platinum and palladium, giving the images the greatest tonal range of any printing method using chemical development. This style is noted for its permanence. It’s estimated that a platinum image, properly made, can last thousands of years.
“I’ve done a lot of commercial work,” Baxter says. “But I always wanted to do something with my photography—build a body of work—that my kids could look back at and say, ‘Hey, my dad did that.’”