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Picture Perfect

Photographer Robert Dawson captures the spirit of the American West.
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Picture Perfect

Texas-born Robert Dawson has always had an eye for the perfect shot. Even as a young child, he says, he was interested in paintings from the Old Masters—Vermeer, Rembrandt, da Vinci—intrigued by their composition and use of color and light. And for nearly 30 years, he’s applied his passion for fine art to his Western photography.

Dawson cut his teeth shooting portraits and doing catalog work, but he didn’t like the prospect of being cooped in a studio all day. He started photographing outdoor activities, and after running into a friend who worked at a ranch, his subject matter became decidedly more cowboy. He says, “My friend supplied the horses and I started shooting.”

Since then, Dawson has been photographing fine Western art, and his horses are willing models. 

 “I bring up 2-year-olds with a partner,” says Dawson, “and we train them to do exactly what we need them do for photographs. We had a horse who would—even when we were 30 feet away—step forward, move back, side pass and turn around, just from verbal commands and hand signals. A horse’s main goal is to stand still and eat. And that’s exactly what they get to do!”

In addition to their modeling work, Dawson’s horses are also handy modes of transportation when he’s scouting remote locations in wild country.

Among his favorite places to shoot are Arizona’s Red Rock State Park, Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, and the spectacularly scenic Joseph, Ore.

“Joseph is one of those best-kept secrets,” Dawson says. “If you look in one direction, it looks like you’re in the Great Plains. If you look the other way, there are towering, snow-capped peaks.

“In this day and age, everyone is in such a big hurry. I want people to look at my work, slow down, take a minute, and think, ‘I want to be right there, right now.”

Dawson’s main goal is to capture what he calls “the magic moment.”

“A lot of people go out to document the West,” he says, “but for every thousand images, there are only a few that really blow your mind. That’s what I’m always looking for … the moment when the subject, the composition, and the lighting all come together in the perfect combination.”

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View more of Dawson's photography here.