Shooting luxury bar scenes crowded with Western stars isn't the only thing David Yarrow is known for. The photographers talks visual storytelling, his eye for precision, and his new book.
Some photographs beg to have the backstory told. Lock in at Woody Creek Tavern is one of them. Seeing it at Casterline|Goodman Gallery in Aspen, Colorado, you just have to find out how British photographer David Yarrow set the scene.
The shoot outside of Aspen was chaotic, but that was the plan. When the gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson is your muse, you buy the ticket and take the ride, Yarrow reasoned. So on a snowy and frigid afternoon in March 2022, the photographer brought a cast of supermodels, Instagram celebrities, a "wolf," and the actor Wes Studi to the late Thompson's favored watering hole, the Woody Creek Tavern, in the hopes of making an image that captured the swaggering spirit of Aspen's antiestablishment heyday.
"I wanted it to be fairly disorganized and with no sense of order and with a lot of alcohol," Yarrow says. "I think Hunter's primary influence is probably the amount of alcohol consumed, because my bar bill was $8,500."
While dozens of extras, friends, and locals from the neighboring trailer park toasted Thompson outside, Yarrow and his production team staged the shot inside. Yarrow placed a Thompson look-alike near its center, with Studi posing stone-faced behind the bar, on which the wolf — actually a domestic Tamaskan dog — steps curiously toward the camera. The cast of characters surrounding them includes supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio and Sports Illustrated swimsuit models Kate Bock and Brooks Nader, along with influencer Aleska Genesis and reggaeton star Nicky Jam. They represent the glitzier side of Aspen, though Yarrow didn't get wrapped up in earnestly defining what era they're from or where Studi's character originated.
"It wasn't revisionism with a surgeon's eye for detail," he says. "It was revisionism having fun."
Studi was drawn into Yarrow's orbit by Santa Fe gallerist Shanan Campbell, daughter of the former Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a close friend of Studi's who also happens to represent Yarrow through her Sorrel Sky Gallery in Durango and Santa Fe. She made the introduction that ultimately led to the shoot.
Studi was intrigued by Yarrow's high-production "storytelling" images and curious about how the photographer creates his signature scenes. "This came along and I thought, OK, let's find out what these things are," Studi said on the set, where he also reunited with fellow Dances With Wolves cast member Buffalo Child, who lives nearby.
The starry cast deferred to their "wolf" co-star, who came in with trainers for only a few minutes at a time after the human performers were in place. "It was just a question of getting everyone to focus and concentrate. And then getting the wolf on the bar," Yarrow says.
His large-format black-and-white wildlife imagery and his vivid storytelling pieces have been a popular part of the artistic inventory at Sorrel Sky, where Yarrow is having a one-day one-man show and a signing for his new book, Storytelling, where he returns to Durango for more on-location shooting for his Wild West series.
The Iron Horse, cover image of Yarrow's new book, Storytelling.
"What I find exciting about David's work," Campbell says, "is also what resonates with people. He is both a gifted artist and a gifted storyteller. That combination pulls me in and keeps me engaged, even when I've stepped away from a piece. We often observe people at the gallery who are immediately drawn to his images and then held captive by them. When they step away, it's what they'll be talking about for the rest of the day, and it's what they'll return to because they want to experience it in their personal environment. To be able to do that with your audience, that's a real gift."
David Yarrow is represented by Sorrel Sky Gallery (sorrelsky.com). Be there for his one-day one-man show and book signing February 16 at Sorrel Sky's Durango location (970.247.3555). Find out more about the artist, including his philanthropic projects benefitting wildlife and endangered species, at davidyarrow.photography.
Header Image: Lock in at Woody Creek Tavern