When I wrote down those three words in the title of this post so I would remember what I wanted to write about I thought "what?" how could these three ever be related? Well let me tell you a story about all three. During a recent trip to one of my favorite states Montana, a good friend who lives on a ranch there agreed to help me find some great ranch horses to photograph. She is a very busy ranch women, mother of two young children, and wife. I knew this was a real gift from her to find the time to help me.
It was a great trip and I got many amazing photographs around their ranch and the area. I told her before I came that I would be willing to photograph her family for her as I knew with their lifestyle going for a portrait session is almost unheard of. She said she would really appreciate that because you see she has an autistic son who is 4 and quite a challenge. Although she has many photographs of both of her children as they grew over the years, there were very few with her in the photograph which is common with many moms with young children. Ranch women also have a difficult time juggling family and ranch work let alone finding the time to gather everyone for a family portrait and all the work that goes into preparing for it particularly during the busy months of summer. So I was more than willing to help her with this.
As I pulled up to the ranch I was excited to meet her family. We had not seen each other for the last 10 years. She has a little girl who is 6 and her little special guy who was 4 . As we talked in her ranch kitchen I could see her total dedication to her children. She was doing everything possible to help not only her child with special needs but her little girl who also needed mom's attention. On top of all the challenges of living on a Montana ranch, which I know all to well, I had to wonder how she holds it all together. But then I remembered something my own mom would say, "you are never given more than you can handle."
This family is the real deal, they work hard and they live basic and that is what I was hoping to capture in these photographs. Rural people have different needs than say suburban and city people when it comes to a portrait sessions. They work with the land and animals, and wearing dresses, ties, suits, and pearls is saved for weddings and funerals. Most of the time a shopping trip of any kind is an all day affair of traveling at least 50 miles, and happens once a month or so. It also includes shopping for groceries, ranch supplies, a stop at the tire shop, and if your lucky maybe a new pair of boots. No time to window shopping at the latest styles, testing the latest fragrances, or dreaming about that gold necklace, getting the basics is all they have time for or are interested in.
As we headed outside for our photo session, she had her little ones dressed up in nice clean ranch wear. I knew I would have to work fast as her son was racing around the ranch with my friend closely watching to make sure he stayed out of trouble. I told her to just forget about me and the camera that I would catch the moments as they happen. I knew in this situation there would be no posing and I was going to have to be alert to each moment as it would arise. I was up for the challenge.
I took photos of the kids in a hurry while they were still clean. Her little girl really enjoyed the camera and was so funny as she went from place to place posing. Her son was on the go. He was in his own world of discovery that none of us will ever understand. No fear, just curiosity. I managed a few nice shots of him as he went from one thing to the other. Then they both headed to the corral full of horses and cows. I had a feeling that the clean clothes would become a thing of the past. Both of the kids had a great time playing with their pony, climbing on the hay feeder pouring water from the stream in their hats and over their heads. I could not stop pushing the shutter. They were taking me back to my childhood and the fun of just playing and discovering.
Later my friend's husband showed up from the field. This was July and haying season had just ended. I knew taking family pictures was not top on his list of things that had to get done. My friend managed to get the kids dried off and into new clothes so we could try some kind of family portrait. I saw a hay wagon sitting next to the yard and told them all to just climb on it and we would see what would happen. Her little cowboy was running up and down back and forth and there was no way you could tell him to stand next to mom and dad. He had his own agenda. I told the rest of the family just to keep looking towards me and I would try to catch him as he went by or when he would occasionally stop to see what everyone was up to. I managed to capture a few nice shots of them all together.
Then as dad headed back to work, I glanced and saw my friend sitting on the hay wagon having a moment with her little guy. I quickly turned my attention to them. Although he was carrying a wire in his hand, the moment was too precious to let go. I caught one more photo of him gazing into her eyes and knew this was a fleeting moment and very special.
After she had received her photographs. She wrote me saying how she appreciated having these photos of her family. She said that the one photograph of her and he son looking at each other meant the most, because no knows how hard they both have worked together to have a brief and rare moment when they look at each other with love and appreciation. It may have not lasted but for her it was validation of the love they share. We all only have moments to cherish along the way in our lives and if I can capture and preserve those moments that are special for someone else, than I know I have picked the right career.
Here are a few of the photographs I caught of this special ranch family's life.