Hollywood has always portrayed America’s Wild West as a lawless land.
But an incredible new fine art photo book, West: The American Cowboy, by renowned photographer Anouk Krantz, reveals that there’s more good and less of the bad and the ugly to be found in cowboy country.
There are no gunfights or bar brawl images in this book. Instead, the 120-plus real-life photos showcase the camaraderie, community connections, family life, pioneering spirit, hard work, and beauty in cowboy life. The book also features a number of awe-inspiring landscape images of the plains and canyons where the cowboys live and roam.
Lone Star: In the book Anouk explains how character, honesty and integrity are central to the identity of an American cowboy
Anouk Krantz told MailOnline Travel: ‘It was the adventure of a lifetime to explore this part of the world, which is so little-known to most of us. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. Like everyone else, I’ve seen movies and read books about the American West. Wow was I wrong!
‘Most visitors who make it out to the western states are as enchanted as I am with the landscapes and with the cowboys walking around in their boots and hats, but it usually stops there. Very few stop to ask them about their lives, what is important to them, what they love and how they feel about the world around them.
‘As I spent the time and the effort to listen and understand their lives, I realized that there is much more to them than the stereotypes that have been perpetuated by Hollywood. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The qualities of self-reliance, gratitude, generosity and mutual respect are integral to cowboy culture and they are woven into the fabric of their daily lives and interactions.’
‘My favorite shots are those that convey the immense size and scale of these landscapes,’ Anouk said. Pictured are the Chinati mountains in Texas
Anouk started shooting rodeos in 2004 and decided to expand her focus to wider cowboy culture in 2018
Cowboy dream: The images in West – The American Cowboy capture cowboys and cowgirls at all stages of life, from childhood to old age
Speaking to MailOnline Travel Anouk described the skies above the American West landscapes as ‘stretching forever’. Pictured is Pinto Canyon in Texas
West: The American Cowboy (Images Publishing) is the result of several years’ of work by Anouk as well as multiple trips from her home city of New York to the other side of America.
Anouk said: ‘I started shooting rodeos back in 2004, but it was not until early 2018 that I decided to expand on this project and make it the subject of my next book. I spent the next six months traveling back and forth from New York to the western states.
‘For many other photographers a typical photoshoot can be staged and completed in one day, but a deeper photographic study of a new culture and society requires commitment, effort, time and patience to truly understand a different way of life. This level of immersion is essential in order to effectively capture the essence of these people.’
This striking black-and-white image titled ‘The Throw’ is one of several in the book that portrays the complex ropework skills of America’s cowboys
West: The American Cowboy features more than 120 striking black-and-white fine-art images of the American West
Anouk told MailOnline Travel: ‘It was the adventure of a lifetime to explore this part of the world that is so little-known to most of us’. Pictured is part of the Navajo region
Despite being titled West: The American Cowboy, multiple images in the book focus on cowgirls and their skills and achievements
Tuf Cooper, pictured, is a four-time world champion roper and became a million-dollar cowboy at the age of just 23
In the foreword to the book, Anouk talks about how difficult it was to earn the trust of the cowboy communities she visited at the start of the project.
She wrote: ‘Many of the ranchers – private and skeptical of strangers – did not have the time or interest to share their lives with me. What was I doing here and why could I possibly be interested in them?’
Talking to MailOnline Travel, she explained how she managed to gain their acceptance.
She said: ‘There was no staging, I only asked for the privilege of following their ordinary, everyday lives, and tried to stay as far out of their way as I could. I wanted to deliver a genuine window into a remarkable and often forgotten culture that anyone could appreciate and understand from around the world and it had to be real.
‘Once these cowboys learned that I was there to capture what is important to them about their world, in a pure and authentic way, we were able to look deeply into one another’s eyes. And after that there was immediate trust and open access.’
Talking about what inspired her to create her latest book, Anouk said: ‘Most visitors who make it out to the western states are as enchanted as I am with the landscapes and with the cowboys walking around in their boots and hats, but it usually stops there. Very few stop to ask them about their lives’
In the book, Anouk talks about the strength, loyalty, relentless work ethic and humble values of the American cowboy
Anouk said that when she travels to the west she is ‘as far away as you can imagine from the fast-paced lifestyle and conveniences at home’
Salute: Anouk told MailOnline travel that ‘qualities of self-reliance, gratitude, generosity and mutual respect are integral to cowboy culture and they are woven into the fabric of their daily lives’
Heeler: Cowboy life revolves around planting and harvesting crops, breeding horses and livestock, birthing new calves and moving herds to fresh grasslands
The photographs in West: The American Cowboy span dawn and dusk. Some capture pauses, some picture the pace of cowboy life. There are portraits, profiles, close-ups and long shots.
For all the variety in the images, though, Anouk still has her favourites. She said: ‘My favorite shots are those that convey the immense size and scale of these landscapes and skies that stretch forever. And to see a cowboy and his herd, working in the far-off distance is to be humbled by the sheer scale and beauty of their everyday surroundings.
‘The other images that I am drawn to are those of the local rodeos. To see these ranching communities come together to celebrate their country, their lives and traditions is to understand people who truly treasure their freedoms and their culture.’
Anouk gives this powerful photograph even more gravitas in the book by spreading it over two huge glossy pages
Anouk said: ‘To see a cowboy and his herd, working in the far-off distance is to be humbled by the sheer scale and beauty of their everyday surroundings’
Western Hills: In the foreword to West: The American Cowboy, Anouk says ‘in this part of the world, the sky and earth stretch to eternity’
Nightlife: Anouk dedicated her book to the American cowboys saying ‘may they forever remain steadfast and true’
On working on West: The American Cowboy, Anouk said: ‘I wanted to see how these American cowboys live, how they work, what they love about their lives that keeps them there, and what they aspire to achieve’
Now that West: The American Cowboy is published, Anouk reveals that she took more than film and stills away from the time she spent in the west.
She said: ‘I have learned that the best way I can embrace the cowboy culture or any other inspirational aspects of another way of life is to try and incorporate these virtues into my life back at home, as well as to share what I’ve learned with friends, neighbours, and others around the world.
‘The cowboys and their families out west are hardworking, humble, genuine, generous and authentic people who share great values. There is no glory in individual achievements; honor is earned by keeping your word, contributing to your community and a willingness to sacrifice for your country. We certainly can all use more of that in our lives.’
In the book Anouk explains: ‘Cowboys compete in rodeos, some to earn extra money and others to follow their passion. They come to win but most of the time leave with nothing’. This image is simply called ‘Bull Rider’
‘As a child I was fascinated by the image of the American cowboy. I was intrigued with their lives as they were portrayed through books and on film as irreverent, rugged frontiersmen,’ Anouk said. This image is called American Rancher
In the foreword Anouk explains the importance of community in the west saying ‘they rely on one another, and their family and community are a source of their strength’
Home on the Range: According to Anouk, cowboys ‘treasure their freedom, surrounded by stunning landscapes and others who share the same values
Anouk describes the landscapes of the American west as having ‘vast expanses of empty space on a scale I had never experienced’
West: The American Cowboy is Anouk’s second photo book. The first, Wild Horses of Cumberland Island, was filled with the images of untamed horses living off the east coast of America.
For her next book, the photographer, who was born in France, says she might consider looking into the lives of the other communities portrayed in Hollywood’s old cowboy movies.
She said: ‘Clearly the native Americans have suffered immeasurably since the settlement of the West and theirs is as equally an important and fascinating story. This is a subject that has captured my attention and I hope to return to visit their communities and reservations, and to learn more about their perspective through the generations as well as their lives today.’
To find out more about Anouk and West: The American Cowboy ($75/£45), visit her website and Images Publishing.
Anouk talked to MailOnline Travel about how she had to earn the trust of the ranching communities she visited. In the foreword to her book she writes: ‘As they got to know me they invited me into their world’
‘I found their greatest virtues to be their faith, their independence, their heritage, their traditions, and their ongoing ties to the land,’ Anouk explained
Anouk says ‘time moves slowly and nobody is in a hurry’ in the west
Talking about rodeo life in the book, Anouk explains: ‘Regardless of the outcome in the arena, they continue, relentless and determined, because this is what they love to do’