I had the great pleasure of meeting one of my photographic heroines a couple of weeks ago. Jean Laughton is someone who I have admired from afar. Her series on ranching takes me back to my days in Utah and Wyoming, riding with friends on cattle drives, being out on the range, and Jackson, Wyoming range is as good as it gets in my mind….She is a true gem of a person, and I loved having her here in the gallery. I fell in love with her work when I saw it in Critical Mass many years ago, and anytime I want to feel at home, I go through her website, seeing the panoramic vision of My Ranching Life. It’s the open space, allowing me to breathe deeply, feel the sun and wind on my face, and run like hell without ever having to stop at a stoplight.
How many days do you ever wish you could escape your concrete jungle? Well, Jean did, and happily I can escape it to, vicariously of course….but still….
My Ranching Life Since 2003, I have been cowboying and photographing ranch work from horseback on the Quarter Circle XL Ranch – making up My Ranching Life series of panoramic photographs. After sixteen years of New York City life, I moved to the tiny Badlands town of Interior, South Dakota (pop 69) in 2003. With plans to continue my commitment to photograph the West and looking for adventure. I got the adventure of a lifetime shortly after, when my photography led me to the Lyle O’Bryan’s Quarter Circle XL Ranch where I was given the opportunity to work as a ranch hand while learning all aspects of cowboying from an old time cowboy. This is when my life and photography changed drastically – prompting the start of my long term photographic series “My Ranching Life”. Transitioning from portraiture against painted backdrops to documentation from horseback and from spectator to cowboy.
Working on the Quarter Circle XL Ranch is a bit like stepping back in time onto a Western back lot. The ranch was once home to Earl Thode – first world champion bronc rider (1929). It is quite a thrill riding across the same land as the cowboys from the past. I feel as if I have stepped ‘inside the photograph’ – riding around and photographing in a diorama of the West.
The area south of Belvidere, South Dakota is rich with western heritage – with all cattle work done on horseback. Creating quite the historical visual against the backdrop of the land and cyclorama sky. I photograph these scenes from horseback, while cowboying, with a Noblex 120 swing lens panoramic camera I carry in my saddlebags. The Noblex gives me a medium format negative suitable for large-scale printing. The panoramic format lends a cinematic quality. And black & white printing helps reverse time. My horse’s ears intentionally appear in some of the photographs – announcing my presence as part of the crew of cowboys. These photographs are a visual diary of just some of the many experiences I have been a part of while working on the Quarter Circle XL and neighboring ranches. I hope this insider perspective conveys the beauty of present day ranching. With photographs that, at first glance, could have been taken during another time – depicting a profession that has changed little over the past century. The land, as backdrop, has a permanence all its own but the cast of characters are bound to change. I hope to one day give a glimpse back to this time in South Dakota family ranching history. Jean Laughton 2010
About Jean –
Jean Laughton was born in LeMars, Iowa. She began photographing Americana and the West in the mid 1990‘s while living in New York City. Her photographs from this series and others have been exhibited in New York City, Denver, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and other locales. They have been published in Fotomagazin, New York Magazine, Range, Cowboys & Indians and other publications. She currently lives, ranches and photographs in the Badlands of South Dakota.