Though years and years of practice in some of America’s most picturesque territories have finely honed his photographic technique, Brooks Institute alumnus Jim Keen hasn’t forgotten where he came from. He’ll enjoy featured artist status at the Annual Vaquero Show (a benefit for the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Society) and be signing copies of his new book of photography, Great Ranches of the West, at the downtown Barnes & Noble (829 State St.) on Thursday, November 6.
Given his upbringing on the beaches of Santa Cruz, Keen’s attraction to ranches is surprising-even to him. “When this project began, I had only been on a horse a few times in my adult life,” he told The Indy recently. “The first ranch I photographed is known for the working cattle horses they raise; the horses are broken in, as they do regular ranch work. I asked the foreman if he could pick out a gentle horse for me. He spit out some chewing tobacco and said, ‘Mr. Keen, every horse you see in there has been ridden at least once, but I don’t see any that have been ridden more than three times.’ I thought my project was doomed before it even began. Luckily, there was a four-wheeler for me to use.”
With time, Keen grew so accustomed to ranch living that, while photographing, he made the big switch from film to digital. (He was wary, but ultimately so satisfied that he eBayed all his film cameras, saying, “I’m never going back in the darkroom again.”) “This has been not only a five-year creative journey, but an educational one as well,” Keen said. He hopes that the book “will create more understanding among urban dwellers of the challenges men and women face on the ranches every day. They raise the best livestock in the world under difficult conditions. They embody the character traits our country was founded on-qualities that those of us who live in cities see fading away. These ranchers have become my heroes.” Visit greatrancheswest.com for more information.