A Handful of Dust

“The goal is to speak to the key issues that face ranching in the next generation."
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“The goal is to speak to the key issues that face ranching in the next generation."

Photographer Allen Birnbach grew up in New York, and in the 1970s was given an assignment to photograph the legendary cattleman W.D. Farr in Greeley, Colo. 

“There was something about him that I found very interesting,” Birnbach says. “There was a quality of power, dignity, and humility all wrapped up into one. So I started looking for opportunities to photograph ranchers.”

Although he found wonderful subjects and captured impactful images, Birnbach felt as though he was only scratching the surface of the content. He was looking for something with greater depth and meaning when his future wife referred him to her uncle, Joe Cogan, and his ranch in Chaffee County, Colo.

“I felt like I hadn’t given enough voice to the issues that faced ranching,” Birnbach says. “As the years have gone on, the issues have gotten more and more extreme, so I wanted to do something that would potentially reach a national audience. Ranchers are the best environmentalists I’ve ever seen.”

Through the Cogans, he became connected to a world he wanted to serve. And now, the photography has morphed into plans for a documentary, the trailer for which features the Cogans (ahandfulofdustdocumentary.com).

“The goal is to speak to the key issues that face ranching in the next generation,” explains Birnbach. “We hope the documentary will reach people on a both a still and a motion side of things. Interviews with ranchers and ranch families are important.”