Joe Vitone Photography
This photo is titled "Evan Hall mounted on favorite horse 8-Ball." This is one of a series of photographs depicting modern cowboys at the SaddleUp exhibit.
A young calf getting branded in a cloud of dust, men crowded around the chuck wagon for lunch, an old rancher showing off handmade cowboy hats – all are captured in photographs at the SaddleUp exhibit at the Institute of Texan Cultures.
Photographer Joe Vitone and filmmaker Lori Najvar combined audio and visual elements to create the exhibit, which offers a window into the lives of four West Texas ranching families. It is currently on view at the Institute through Aug. 25.
"Holding to the notion that we can know–or at least ask some of the important questions–by keen observation, I photograph to understand," Vitone writes in his curator's notes. "The hand-held photographs provide a look at a rough beauty of place, culture and people. The formal portraits are intended to pay tribute to their subjects, and the making of them akin to ritual."
The exhibit was produced by PolkaWorks, a nonprofit that spotlights the rich and various cultures and traditions in Texas with documentaries and exhibits such as this one.
The photographs explore generational and familial themes in ranching life. One photo depicts a great-grandfather, a grandfather, father and son with their horses in Hallettsville, Texas. Another shows a matriarch standing alone in front of a withered orchard. In another, a young boy stands with the family dog, with his name and "State Finalist" embroidered on a button-down shirt too big for him.
The subjects of the photographs come to life in a video produced by Najvar, in which they talk about why they love ranching despite its challenges.
"I still love it, I'm still here," one rancher said. "It might not be the best living, but it's the best life for me."
The Institute will be hosting free SaddleUp Sunday on July 14, where kids can learn roping from cowboy docents and make cowboy-themed crafts.
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