Imagine you have just been transported to the wild west of the 1800s. You stumble upon gritty images of broken-down cowboys, dusty trails and corrals of horses. In reality, you have just walked through the doors of the William Reaves Fine Art gallery and into the world of photographer Robb Kendrick. "The Cowboy Spirit: Faces of the American West" is the gallery's current collection, featuring photographs dedicated to the lives of the American West. Each of the multitude of images tells a story, most profiles of cowboys, with various scenic shots of ranch life sprinkled in.
The portraits are nothing less than stunning. You may find yourself staring into the eyes of a young boy in a beat-up, ten-gallon hat for more time than feels comfortable, but it is too difficult to turn away from him. A wiry old cowboy with a thick mustache conjures feelings of a lost generation, desperate to remain relevant. The wrinkles under his eyes are deep and cracked from years of living an SPF-free lifestyle.
What is so remarkable about these photos, aside from the captured images themselves, is the manner in which Kendrick has shot and produced them. Kendrick uses an antiquated process called tintype, which was used by photographers dating back to the mid-1800s. The process is complicated and difficult, as described by Kendrick, but its result is magnificent. The images come out somewhat underexposed, with unequal amounts of light distribution and a grainy, tan pigment. If you have ever taken one of those "old timey" photos that are so prevalent along boardwalks and amusement parks, you can conjure up an image, but Kendrick's photos are the real deal.
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Kendrick fell in love with tintype at a young age and since he grew up along the Texas Panhandle, the project was a natural fit. Many of these photos were taken for National Geographic, which Kendrick regularly photographs for, in addition to other commissions he has received, and some he just took for his own interests. In the many months Kendrick worked on this collection, he traveled well over 60,000 miles from Mexico to Canada, stopping at ranches and farms along the way. He said the cowboys were mostly receptive to his work; at some points he needed to "talk tough" to get them to let him inside their normally restricted world.
In addition to the dazzling display of Kendrick's work, the back room of the gallery features oil paintings of cowboy scenes by painters such as Arthur Roy Mitchell and Joe Grandee, to name a few. The paintings play second fiddle, though, but are a nice addition to the collection.
"The Cowboy Spirit: Faces of the American West" by Robb Kendrick is on display at the William Reaves Fine Art Gallery. 2313 Brun Street. March 16 - April 21. With a book signing with the photographer on Saturday, April 21 from 2 - 4 p.m. Gallery hours are Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit reavesart.com for more information.