For more than 20 years, cowboy photographer Peter Robbins has been riding and working with crews across the West, capturing ranch scenes from the open range to the branding pen.
Recently, he’s embarked on a new project, shooting portraits of cowpunchers in a studio setup, against a blank white canvas.
“There’s a different kind of clarity that comes with the studio backdrop,” he says. “The white background helps us see details we wouldn’t normally see—the styling of a saddle, the lines on a face. Without the distraction of landscape or cattle or action, a different type of story is being told.”
Robbins kicked off the project at the 2017 Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, and the photographs shown here are all from that inaugural shoot. The first of many, Robbins says. The cowboys pictured were all participants of the rodeo, ranch horse competitions, or horse sale, and had no idea they were going to be photographed until Robbins pulled them aside.
“I want an audience to understand that these are real people,” he says. “This is what they really look like and how they really dress. There’s no styling or fixing their outfits. I didn’t dress them or ask them to come a certain way. The iconic quality that shines through comes from hard work and a hard life. Working cattle and horses day in and day out isn’t easy.”
Robbins also notes the interesting juxtaposition of the photographs’ simplicity and the turbulent political and cultural climate in which they were taken.
“These were taken shortly after the election, when there was a tremendous amount of consternation,” he says. “There was confliction and anger and confusion. One of my ways for dealing with that and getting some clarity was to take pictures that are easy to read and not ambiguous. There is no ambiguity when it comes to cowboys.”