Raised in a ranching community in Utah’s Rocky Mountains, Chris Petersen grew up with an appreciation for the Western lifestyle.
“My neighbors had ranches, and I just wanted to help whenever I could,” he says. “The only place I ever wanted to be was in the saddle, on a ranch, working cows.”
An early talent for drawing evolved into skill with a camera, and Petersen turned the lens toward his favorite subject: the working cowboy.
“Many of my best friends are ranchers and cattlemen,” he says, “and I spend as much time as I can with them, working alongside them but also capturing their way of life. My favorite thing to photograph is cowboys doing what they normally do. I don’t set up shots. I want to make art out of what’s real.”
Authenticity is certainly a hallmark of Petersen’s work, where there’s no airbrushing to clean up the mud or wipe away the sweat. Representing the reality of cowboying—both gritty and beautiful—is important to Petersen, who is passionate about promoting the culture. He says, “I want people to look at my pictures and realize that the cowboy is not dead and gone. I want them to look at my pictures and understand that the guy in the photo is out there somewhere right now. He’s real.”
Not only an accomplished photographer, Petersen is also a cowboy singer and songwriter—another avenue where he can share his love for the Western way.
“It’s our roots,” he says. “This is who we are. In this part of the world, if you go back enough generations, there’s some cowboy in you. To lose this lifestyle would be to lose something tremendous. It’s our heritage, our traditions, our values. It’s just a great way to live.”
See more of Chris Petersen’s photography at DiehardCowboy.com.