Rounding Up Ranching Culture – Part Two

Michael Masterson continues chatting this week with Seth and Charlie talking about technique and where Ranch Raised Kids is headed.

Michael: You are often shooting in remote locations in challenging conditions, Seth. What do you use to capture such natural imagery?

Seth: For me it’s all about environment, natural light and a Canon 35mm. F1.4 lens that creates an honest dialogue between my subject and me. Just keep it simple. I don’t want technique to get in the way of the picture. Shooting wide open with a gentle fill flash allows me to make intimate portraits spontaneously anywhere on the ranch. Our kids are such good sports. I’m always ready to shoot as soon as we arrive. Getting the kids to relax and feel comfortable in front of the lens seems to come naturally. I’m lucky that way. The average session goes on for an hour to ninety minutes.

It’s funny. During the discovery phase of Ranch Raised Kids we experimented with ring flash and heavy equipment but the day we tested this set up on location was very windy and we scrapped the idea immediately. It was the best test of all time.

Michael: I know most of the work has been done quite recently but do you plan to keep in touch with the kids and possibly shoot them again? I was particularly taken with Tallen’s story.

Charlie: We are not planning a “7 UP” type project. Right now Ranch Raised Kids is about kids on Arizona ranches but word is out and families in New Mexico have contacted us. So fingers crossed for Ranch Raised Kids, New Mexico! Yes, we will stay in touch with the families and I know we will always be welcome guests on many of these ranches. Our Ranch Raised Kids Facebook community is growing rapidly because the kids and their mothers are very active on social media. Tallen is a great example. He was 6 when he was severely injured in a horse accident and his mother Whitney was told he would never, eat, breathe or walk on his own again. Recently Whitney posted a video of Tallen, now 11, kicking a ball. You can imagine how many likes that post scored!

Tallen Simpson, 11, with his horse and custom made saddle, Williamson Valley, AZ

Michael: What is the end game for this project?

Charlie: Ironically, at Art Center I teach a course about marketing photography so this is a question I ask my students. Knowing what you should do has not made it any easier to do it! We have talked about making a documentary, or developing an episodic TV series, a tee shirt line and/or children’s books? But we come back to one thing: We want to find a partner to sponsor the publication of a book. Someone commented that our investment in the Ranch Raised Kids project is an investment in the future of ranching in the West. We would love to be associated with a company that supports the community too.

Ben Pat Kimball, 14, ready to feed horses, CV Ranch, Paulden, AZ

Michael: Finally, can you share a particularly moving or unexpected moment with one of the kids for us?

Seth: My moment was photographing Tallen Simpson, the 11-year-old who is working so hard to speak and walk properly again. When we arrived at the ranch I was hoping for 15 minutes with Tallen. As always I started shooting but something strange happened. Tallen’s gaze into the lens was so intense I could feel it inside my head. It’s hard to explain but we started to bond. Fifteen minutes became an hour. We did four, maybe five set-ups. He didn’t want to quit. It was incredible. His mom was amazed. I was deeply moved. Charlie was speechless.

Charlie: I am constantly reminded by the danger of ranch work. Ranch kids develop a sixth sense about livestock unlike photographers from LA whose lives need to be saved occasionally! At a branding last year a cowboy called Bernard was dragging a calf to the fire when his horse started to panic. Seth was in striking distance of Bernard’s rearing horse but he was completely lost in his “photo-zone” with his eye glued to the camera. Luckily Bernard had the skill to jerk the horse away and only then did Seth start running backwards and ended up on his butt inches from the branding fire. Close call!

Bernard Gravalex saving Seth at the branding for the J Bar S, Vallee, AZ

But talking about the kids – I will always remember a moment at the end of a long day of ranch work last summer. As Seth and I left after dinner Riley Rodgers, 8, said to me, “Thank you for your time, Ma’am.” That took my breath away – a good upbringing can happen anywhere but in this day and age, perfect manners are hard to find. Thank you, Riley.

Devyn Blackmore, 12, looking over the Blackmore Ranch, Hillside, AZ

All images © Ranch Raised Kids and reprinted with kind permission of owners.

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