Texas, USA – 2020
It is integral to my style of animal portraiture to obsess on the lead characteristics of the subject and then look to magnify those characteristics. I always want a Champions League model, not a Third Division player. When I photograph African elephants, for instance, I work in Kenya which boasts the biggest, most magnificent elephants in the world. I would never go to Botswana to photograph an elephant - they are smaller than their East African cousins.
With cowboys, I am drawn to the great state of Texas - where the most authentic, uncompromising, working cowboys in the world live their lives. The flat and arid, big sky topography of West Texas offers a distinctive canvas that not just locates an image, it also lends a stage on which to take a dynamic portrait. Texan cowboys are the real deal and the vastness of west Texas is their workplace.
On set on the Rio Grande, which divides America from Mexico, I met a working cowboy called Ryan Marshall. Mannered and tough, he boasted not only extraordinary horsemanship skills, but a bountiful and ageless moustache and beard. I knew that I had to take his portrait in full partnership with his magnificent horse, Frisco, and we had already scouted the perfect location and had been granted access to it the following day. The deal was done.
The photograph wins because of its vitality and power, but also because of Ryan’s anonymity. I am an eyes person, but on this occasion, we don’t need them. This is west Texas and all the ‘True Grit’ that goes with it.