Photography, much like training a horse or working cattle, demands patience, and Scott Baxter will spend days, weeks, even years planning a photograph.
“I never force a photograph. I let it come to me,” says the Arizona-based photographer. “And if it doesn’t, then I put my camera away and try again another day.”
To assemble “100 Years 100 Ranchers,” a 10-year project published for the Arizona Centennial, Baxter shared meals with his subjects, learned what mattered most to them, and even stayed overnight at their ranches before taking out his camera. While all photographers seek to earn their subjects’ trust, Baxter feels a special obligation to accurately portray ranch work down to the smallest details: the proper way to coil a rope, walk a fence line, or brand a calf. “Ranching is vanishing,” he says. “Integrity, precision, and honesty have to be present in my work.”
Baxter’s rancher portraits stare directly at you, the viewer, inviting you to peer into their hearts. It’s no little accomplishment. “I want them to look right through me,” Baxter says, “that’s when you capture their essence.”
Arizona’s ranchers are intrinsically woven into the landscape, and Baxter hopes his photos reveal this special connection. “They’re stewards of their lands, very aware that they need to manage and care for it, for future generations.”
Baxter, then, is a steward of these stewards, creating a permanent record of this disappearing way of life. “When I’m gone, nobody’s going to want to look at my archive of commercial work. This is one body of work that’s important.”
“100 Years 100 Ranchers” by Scott T. Baxter is available at scottbaxterphotographer.com.