March 18, 2015

Photography is a contact sport

By Julie Carter, Cowgirl Sass & Savvy


There haven’t been too many years in my life I didn’t have a camera in tow wherever I went. The difference in then and now is the cost of the film and developing which became a non-issue in 2002 when I bought my first digital camera. That turned up the “volume” on my love for taking pictures of life.

You cannot spend any time at all photographing anything there is to photograph and not soon find a correlation between the clicking sound of the camera lens and the special meaning of the moments frozen in time.
Burk Uzzle, who you may or may not know, (I didn’t) is a renowned photo journalist with a 60-year resume from the backside of a camera. He made a very profound statement that sums it all up for me. “Photography is a love affair with life.”

That love affair will take you places you would have passed by, offer greetings to people that may have gone unnoticed and more than frequently put you in places that quite possibly put life and limb at risk. And sometimes, there is even “contact” unbecoming to poise, propriety and concern for life itself. My “moments” in photography that defy common sense are only different from those of other photographers in that they had me for the main character.

I once took a head-on from a running horse an arena. It wasn’t my first rodeo, literally. It was just my first time to find myself in the unintended path of 1200 pounds of horse (and his rider) trying as hard as I was to not collide, resulting in a broadside hit with great momentum. Knocking me into the air, camera flying, I landed on my back gasping for air. And all I could think was: 1. Is my camera hurt? And 2. I have to get up. I do NOT want mouth-to-mouth from that handle-bar mustached EMT. The later was a great motivator and I bounded (hypothetically) to my feet amidst a flurry of concerned cowboys that hurried to help me.

I often carried a small camera in my pocket while horseback working cattle. With it came opportunity for those shots of cowboys pouring coffee from an enamel pot over a campfire, carrying a branding iron from a fire or driving the herd down a long draw. More often than not, those shots that were not rescued to film were because to be an active participant in the action of the moment, it was required that all hands be on deck, on the reins or on a rope. The ones that got away were like those times that a horned cow was making every attempt to punch holes in my horse, or when that bull made a lunge at my 4-year-old son’s horse and I saw guardian angels at work.

Adventures vary with geography and subject matter. Photographing high school sports brings its own tense moments of finding oneself in the middle of a sideline tackle or the unintended target of a ball pass gone bad.

Last summer I ventured out to get some sunset photos. I was driving the back country roads just looking for things to shoot with my camera when I saw this old homestead with all the parts of a perfect picture. An old barn, weathered-wood buildings and a collection of old cars, trucks and farm equipment. No one was around, no home in sight. So I stopped the car, still on the county road and I began shooting photos thinking perhaps snakes would be my only adversary in this serene setting.

Shortly a pickup came barreling down the road as fast as the two-track would allow and at the same time a Shetland-pony sized dog came loping up to me, teeth and tongue all showing. The guy in the pickup slides it to a stop and hollers at the dog. "Jake, come here.”

I walked over to the pickup with a greeting and introduction of myself, explaining that I was only photographing the old cars and assuring him I would be no bother. He said that was fine, he was just checking as he’d had problems with vandals trying to steal the old vehicles.

I pointed to my very small car and with a grin, told him I had to quit my twilight junk hauling business because the car was too small for a profitable load. He laughed and while the dog was still trying to knock me down, he commented, "Jake won't hurt you, he will just bother you."

I told him Jake was indeed large enough to impress me. He laughed again, put the truck in gear and said as he drove away, “Have fun taking pictures.”

And so I did. Good sense has nothing to do with photography.

Julie can be reached for comment at