The horse and his girl

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Paul Wei­de­man

West­ern ranch women have been a spe­cial fo­cus for pho­tog­ra­pher Barbara Van Cleve for decades. She has been one of them since she was a kid, but she ex­panded her do­main with a mas­ter’s in English lit­er­a­ture and a life­long im­mer­sion in photography. Her new book, Pure Quill: Pho­to­graphs by Barbara Van Cleve (Fresco Books), fea­tures stun­ning im­ages of work­ing ranch­ers and range-rid­ers backed by Mon­tana’s Crazy Moun­tain range, as well as shots taken in Nova Sco­tia and Mex­ico. An­drew Smith Gallery shows her new work in an ex­hi­bi­tion from Nov. 18 through Jan. 14, 2017. On the cover is her 1996 im­age Horse Whis­per­ing: Carol, A Woman’s Touch.

“Just give me my horse and sad­dle, some great open coun­try, cat­tle, and work­ing cat­tle peo­ple, and I’ll do my work qui­etly, in all con­di­tions, from pure per­fec­tion to rain, mud, dust, and freez­ing bliz­zards.” — Barbara Van Cleve

A cow­boy caught mid-air on the jour­ney from a buck­ing bronco to the ground. De­tails of a spurred boot in the stir­rup, of a bare leg against a horse’s side, and of rope quick-tied on a sad­dle horn. Stet­son-topped women work­ing barbed wire, cook­ing, ty­ing a calf’s feet, nurs­ing a baby, and run­ning horses. These im­ages of peo­ple, fea­tured in Pure Quill: Pho­to­graphs by Barbara Van Cleve (Fresco Books), share space with views of big, stir­ring land­scapes, some pep­pered with horses or herds of cat­tle. “Van Cleve has of­ten ob­served that not only is she in­spired by land, she rev­els in be­ing ‘a tiny speck’ in the wideopen Mon­tana land­scape,” author Su­san Hall­sten McGarry writes in the book’s text. Two of the gor­geous land­scape photos are Early Sum­mer Evening: Mares and Foals and A Nat­u­ral De­sign: Sym­me­try (both from 2011). For the lat­ter, Van Cleve was pho­tograph­ing a neigh­bor’s horses in ex­change for some ta­bles. “I went out there three dif­fer­ent times in the sum­mer, look­ing for good clouds and good light,” she told Pasatiempo. “In the case of Early Sum­mer Evening, I was just for­tu­nate to be there at that time with the cloud for­ma­tions and the shafts of light com­ing down from be­hind the peaks. At first the mares were very pro­tec­tive of the foals, but even­tu­ally they were used to me be­ing around.” Horse Whis­per­ing: Carol. A Woman’s Touch (1996) shows the pho­tog­ra­pher’s youngest sis­ter and their stal­lion, Sam Hill. “He was a blue roan, a lovely horse,” Van Cleve said, “and sired an aw­ful lot of beau­ti­fully dis­po­si­tioned horses. That day we were there just look­ing at the mares and foals, and Sammy was ly­ing down. He wasn’t in­ter­ested in get­ting up, so Carol went over to him, and I liked the way his eyes and ears were with re­gard to her.”

One of the ear­lier photos in the book is North Cape: Gath­er­ing Ir­ish Moss (1977). Af­ter re­ceiv­ing a grant from the Lilly Foun­da­tion at Mun­delein Col­lege, Chicago, where she was teach­ing, Van Cleve spent a month trav­el­ing and pho­tograph­ing in Canada’s Mar­itime Prov­inces. “Be­ing a land­lub­ber, I was so in­trigued with all the ac­tiv­i­ties and the way peo­ple were in­volved in oys­ter farm­ing and other things there. There was quite a cliff, but I pho­tographed them gath­er­ing moss. I was in­trigued by the line of them work­ing the edge of these cliffs and driv­ing the horses into the surf.”

Pure Quill — that’s big-coun­try ranch talk for “au­then­tic; real, through and through” — in­cludes pho­to­graphs of Van Cleve from the time she was a lit­tle girl; a por­trait of her in about 1963, when she was the youngest dean of women in the coun­try at DePaul Univer­sity in Chicago; photos of her with horses Joven, Trill, Whist! and Payá; and im­ages of her rac­ing and run­ning horses. Her in­ti­mate knowl­edge of that an­i­mal be­gan at age three; by ten she was help­ing break and hal­ter colts, round­ing up cat­tle, and rop­ing and brand­ing calves.

Dur­ing the 1940s and 1950s she com­peted in lo­cal rodeos and got her bach­e­lor’s de­gree in so­cial stud­ies with a mi­nor in English from Duch­esne Col­lege in Omaha in 1958. In 1963, she earned a mas­ter’s de­gree in English lit­er­a­ture with a fo­cus on Vic­to­rian po­etry from North­west­ern Univer­sity. The fol­low­ing year she pur­chased a ranch from her grand­fa­ther and re­named it the Bar B.

Be­fore mov­ing back to the Bar B year-round in 2004, Van Cleve spent 25 win­ters in Santa Fe, where she started out con­vert­ing a chicken coop into a dark­room and of­fice. “I had been a col­lege pro­fes­sor in Chicago and a dean of women, but I was al­ways mak­ing pho­to­graphs, and I knew Santa Fe was the place to go.” Van Cleve be­came good friends with Paul Capon­i­gro and was also ac­quainted with Anne Nog­gle. “She was a kick. I knew Anne, and she had the great­est sense of hu­mor but was very se­ri­ous about

her photography.” Other photography lu­mi­nar­ies in the Santa Fe area in­cluded Laura Gilpin (whom Van Cleve re­grets never hav­ing met), Eliot Porter, Van Deren Coke, and Beau­mont Ne­whall. “It was the place to be with im­por­tant peo­ple in fine-art photography to find out if I had any real abil­ity. I had such a pas­sion for photography.”

Van Cleve’s first cam­era was a Brownie box cam­era; she was later given a Graflex Crown Graphic 4x5 field cam­era. “When I was work­ing on this book and Su­san was asking me which cam­eras were used for which im­ages, I was stunned to dis­cover how many pho­to­graphs I had made with that Crown Graphic. I was very pleased with my­self. I thought, ‘Well, not too bad, Barbara. You hauled that thing around on horse­back — very care­fully, I might add.’

“I car­ried a Mamiya twin-lens-re­flex cam­era for years, and I re­mem­ber one day I had left it hang­ing on the sad­dle horn. I was way up high in the moun­tains by a lake, and some­thing spooked my horse, and that horse all of a sud­den went buck­ing across these rocks, and of course the cam­era came off. The only thing that hap­pened to it was that the flip-up hood on top was bent, but I thought to my­self, ‘OK, no more just hang­ing the cam­era on the sad­dle horn.’ ”

One of the more in­ter­est­ing top­ics in Hall­sten McGarry’s de­tailed text has to do with Van Cleve’s tech­nique of tak­ing pho­to­graphs from the back of a mov­ing an­i­mal. Ac­com­plished at both rid­ing and cam­era work, she said she doesn’t miss hav­ing to change film on horse­back — be­cause about 12 years ago, she made the switch to dig­i­tal photography.

Above, Barbara Van Cleve: Early Sum­mer Evening: Mares and Foals, 2011; top right, Van Cleve on Joven, 2013, photo Eleanor McCul­ley; all im­ages cour­tesy Fresco Books

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