Picture Texas – wide open spaces, a beautiful sun setting over a post fence, maybe a cowboy?
Though many of us have never ridden a horse, let alone herded anything, it’s the picture many people develop in their heads when they talk about this state. The truth is, fewer Texans live in rural areas than ever before. Farmers and ranchers are just as likely to use horsepower as actual horses to accomplish their daily tasks. But a Texas photographer is trying to preserve what’s left of that cowboy lifestyle, in pictures.
“My name is Walter Workman and I’m a photographer out of Texas,” he says. “Actually, I’m a fifth-generation Texan. But I spent most of my adult life outside of Texas. I came back a few years back and stumbled into photographing cowboys. And it’s been my passion ever since.”
Workman was taking pictures all over the world – from New York to Paris to Athens – of subjects ranging from fashion to wildfires to extreme sports. But he gave up that lifestyle to be closer to family. Within a week of his move back to Texas got his first gig at a ranch taking photos of a branding.
“I’m sure the ranch manager thought I was going to be sitting on the fence with a point-and-shoot,” he says, “and that’s not what I do.”
What he does is get up close and in the action. His photos from that weekend were taken down in the pen, dust billowing and the lens eye-level with a calf. He was hooked.
“There is an ethos among cowboys that is unique,” Workman says. “And there is an esprit de corps among these men. They take great pride, if that’s the right word, because they’re all very humble people, but pride in who they are and what they do. And that’s fun to see.”
Workman says he wants America to see this and appreciate it.
“When you go in the grocery story and you pick up that cellophane-wrapped steak or hamburger – it comes from somewhere,” he says. “And there are these people that are out there in the heat, in rugged conditions, in snowstorms, taking care of these animals and raising them and getting them to market. And these guys are just a lot of fun to hang out with. They really are.”
It’s clear from his photographs that Workman is having fun. He’s been on cattle drives and to rodeos, stayed up late with cowboys gathered around chuck wagons and campfires. There are western sunsets and bucking broncos, portraits of men, women and kids, often sitting on horseback and looking straight into the camera. Giving Workman a smile as they take moment for getting back to just doing what they do.
“I am a visitor to their world and I don’t pretend to have any of the skills that they have,” he says. “And these skills take years to develop and they are skills that if you don’t have them, it can be life-threatening. These are all skills that these guys use working day to day.”
They represent a way of life that’s fast fading from the Texas landscape. Workman is trying to preserve it forever with his photographs. You can see some of his favorite shots in his recent book, The Cowboy Portfolio.