Whether it’s high fashion or bronc rides, one of our favorite photographers captures intensity like no one else.
When he’s not on horseback, Dallas-based photographer Scott Slusher gets around in a 1963 Chevy pickup with a three-on-the-tree column shifter. The same kind his grandfather drove.
“Mine’s black, his was turquoise, but it’s the exact same truck,” Slusher says. “It goes slow, but that’s good. I don’t wanna be in a hurry.”
Though the intense detail in his work might suggest otherwise, that take-’er-easy approach has been key to the success of one of the West’s preeminent cowboy photographers. It’s one of the tricks of the trade the Oklahoma native and 2002 graduate of the Art Institute of Dallas shared with C&I about his dual career as a high-end fashion and commercial photographer (clients include Prada, All-Clad, Mary Kay, and Yeti) and master of what he calls “authentic Western-lifestyle photography.”
Cowboys & Indians: How do you achieve such intimacy with your fast-moving subjects?
Scott Slusher: My preferance when I’m out at these ranches is to be on horseback and be right there in the action. I want people who see my photographs to feel they are there as well.
C&I: Doesn’t your camera shake a lot while on horseback?
Slusher: You have to be on your game especially on horseback, meaning early morning settings have to change on the fly when the sun is coming up. When I’m trotting on a horse, changing my settings is a constant. I’m always looking at my images to see if they are perfect.
C&I: How about your horse?
Slusher: I got two horses. My first is named The Dude, after The Big Lebowski, ’cause The Dude is pretty laid-back, but he can be a jerk sometimes. He’s ranch-y but not very ranch-y, meaning if we have to go rope something or cut a cow out, he’ll do it, but he has to have a little persuasion. My new horse will go do whatever you want to do — he doesn’t have a bad attitude. He’s like, “Yessir, let’s go do that. I wanna go do that.” They’re good buddies. I take both of them to the ranches.
C&I: Your second horse has a good name too — Turbo.
Slusher: He’s actually named Dusty Bottom, but he’s aka Turbo. When I was gonna buy the horse, the turbo went out on my diesel truck. So I said, “If I get a new horse, he’s gonna be called Turbo because I spent all my money on a horse instead of on my truck.”
C&I: How do photography shoots on ranches with cowboys differ from fashion shoots with models?
Slusher: I try to keep everything I do very authentic. When I’m out at these ranches I rarely tell anybody what to do. These guys are working; they’re out there doing a job. They’re real people; they’re not models. If I miss a shot, I can’t go, “Hey, would you mind roping that calf again?” My job is to be 100 percent out of the way.
C&I: Have you always been around horses and cowboys?
Slusher: My dad was a horse breeder when I grew up. One grandfather was a rancher, one grandfather was a farmer. ... Some places I go to I get put to work, putting the camera down and helping out. And I’m all over that. The more that I am respected by other cowboys, the more comfortable they will feel when I’m out there taking pictures of them.
C&I: Do they like having their pictures taken?
Slusher: All the cowboys I hang out with, they all wanna be in a coffee-table book, because they looked at all those Kurt Markus books and the [Frederic] Remington books on the coffee tables at their houses when they were growing up and they envied those guys.
C&I: Any close calls while shooting?
Slusher: You have to have eyes in the back of your head when you’re shooting bulls. Horses don’t really care. Only one horse has ever come after me, and one cowboy landed right on top of my head. That was at the Dickens [Texas] ride. One of my buddies was like, “Hey, Slusher, when they open that gate, that horse is gonna dogleg over to the left and go right where you’re standing.” And that’s exactly what happened. He came out straight for me and kept on coming. The following year at Dickens that same horse came out of the pen and, sure enough, he did exactly the same thing. I kept the [shutter] running the whole time. I was aware enough to keep shooting.
From the February/March 2019 issue.