Photographer Anouk Masson Kranz journeyed across the heartland of the West to capture the spirit of modern day American cowboys.
After the success of her first photography book WEST: The American Cowboy, Anouk Masson Krantz decided to hit the road again with a camera in hand. This time around, she went further into cowboy communities to capture folks from all walks of life. The result? A new photography book titled American Cowboys — complete with contributions from country musician Jon Pardi and a foreword written by C&I reader favorite Taylor Sheridan.
We chatted with the well-traveled photographer about her new book, the corresponding traveling art exhibition, and the common ground of all cowboys.
Cowboys & Indians: How does American Cowboys differ from your previous book, WEST: The American Cowboy?
Anouk Masson Krantz: My most recent book WEST: The American Cowboy has been a surprising success, and I knew I had only begun to scratch the surface of this great Western culture and their way of life. Once I had this unexpected exposure, I had so many generous offers from others who wanted to share their stories and lives that I was compelled to continue to dig deeper. In American Cowboys, I’ve taken my work further into their community to include men, women, children, college kids, rodeo, and ranching communities from different backgrounds in the heartland of the great American West and well beyond. These communities are not isolated pockets but are found across America where we might least expect them.
C&I: You walked away from your last trip with a few lasting friendships. Did you revisit any of those connections this time around — or did you explore new places and relationships?
Krantz: I continue to visit my friends from my last trip but most of the photographs are all new connections. Without a doubt one of my favorite new friends I’ve met along my adventures out West is Derrick Begay. He is an American Cowboy and a modern day Navajo Legend.
I first met Derrick in Bowie, Texas. A friend of mine had told me that Derrick is revered among his people and that if I really wanted an inspirational story then he was my guy. I am not sure if he had ever met a French woman before, but he gave me a once-over and agreed to potentially meet a week later in Arizona.
When I arrived at his Arizona ranch the following week, I quickly learned that this was going to be quite out of the ordinary. When I arrived, Derrick had already outfitted three horses. We were going out to round up his cattle and gather them into a small corral. He loaded his horses in his trailer and we drove out into the scrub brush until we arrived at the banks of a fast-moving and wide river. Derrick handed me a pair of chaps, and it occurred to me there that he was putting me to the test to see what I was made of. Thankfully, I had spent a lot of time on horseback growing up in France and knew my way around a horse, although this was going to be very different.
We found a crossing where the horses could just barely maneuver at a chest-high depth. Once we got to the other side, we spent the afternoon on a trail ride through the desert — steering through 30 feet saguaros (cactus) that cast long dark shadows across the desert floor.
Suddenly Derrick heard his dogs barking in the far distance. They had found the herd. He took off in front of me and I dug my heals in and shot out from behind to try to catch up. It was the greatest couple of hours right there rounding up his cattle as the sun was setting behind an endless desert of brush, saguaros, and dust. Saguaro spines layering my arms which took me 10 days to remove.
But here is the thing, by the time we were done rounding up his cattle together and crossing that deep river again in pitch black skies, I could only think that this was the only way I could have known who he really is. Same for him. Here is a lifelong connection. Two remarkably different people who may have not systemically connected but when you roll up your sleeves together, well you most likely will.
C&I: This book covers all cowboys — female, male, Black, White, Native American, young, and old. What did all these cowboys (and gals) have in common?
Krantz: The common thread that ties them ALL together are their values: integrity, dignity, hard work and love for their family, community, land, and country.
C&I: Your images aren’t only on view in your new book, but also at NorthPark Center in Dallas, Texas. How did this come about?
Krantz: We started working on the exhibit over two years ago. NorthPark Center’s collection of internationally acclaimed 20th and 21st century art turns shopping and dining into a world-class cultural experience. They have over 150 works from the Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Collection and many works on loan from the Nasher Sculpture Center and other institutions. NorthPark’s collection makes museum-quality art accessible to all. How fantastic is that? Working with their art curator Anna Kern was an incredible experience and I am thrilled to have my traveling exhibition American Cowboys with over 55 pieces on view until November 3.
Photography: (All images) courtesy Anouk Masson Kranz/Images Publishing