»In their world, there is no glory or praise for singular achievements«

A conversation with the photographer Anouk Masson Krantz about the fascination of the Wild West, horses - and about the very own world of cowboys.
Text Wiebke Brauer
Photo Anouk Masson Krantz

What is it about cowboys that has captured the interest of authors, filmmakers – or artists in general?
Yes, why would a man herding cattle be so cool? It is their strong sense of belonging, their pioneering spirit, strength, independence, authenticity, integrity and dignity that continues to captivate people. Their word is their bond and they have remained unchanged.

You said: „As a child I was fascinated by the image of the American cowboy.“ Why?
I was always intrigued by the notion of the Wild West and the American cowboy. I wanted to see for myself the vast rolling hills and expanses of ranchland underneath these enormous skies that I had heard and read so much about. The dramatic landscapes of the American West evoke a sense of freedom, independence, and endless possibilities which have long captured the imagination of people all over the world. And I wanted to find out what life was like for those who lived and worked there.

"I wanted to see for myself the vast rolling hills and expanses of ranchland underneath these enormous skies that I had heard and read so much about."

We heard that you spent most of your free time horseback riding as a child – which I think is relatively unusual. How was that possible?
Growing up in France, my family moved every few years and I often found myself in a new town surrounded by new people. The one constant I had in my life was a love of horses and the opportunity to ride wherever we lived. France has always been known on the world stage as having a strong equestrian culture and most of the towns where I lived had healthy communities of horseback riders. The sport taught me so many fundamental skills such as independence, discipline, empathy, trust and compassion, all which led to my own development of confidence. It has served me to this day and enabled me to challenge myself as a photographer.

Let’s say that I don’t know anything about horses – what is so fascinating about those animals?
Horses have the ability to connect and bond with humans. They have a unique sensitivity and can understand our emotions. They are incredibly smart and loyal. I was eight when I started riding in France and although I stopped when I moved to NYC, those connections will stick with me forever. Pictures such as “Legacy” show you how the rider and horse work together.

And how did you get to the Wild West?
I got there while working on my previous book »Legacy«. In a remote area of Kansas I came across my first local rodeo. It was uplifting to see how ranchers and farmers from far away took time out of their lives to come together and celebrate their country, their traditions, and the remarkable culture and community that they all support in their own way, each and every day. After this first experience, I always had an itch to return and learn more about their way of life because to my surprise I had learned for myself that the Cowboy Culture was very much alive and well.

How did you manage to gain the acceptance of the ranchers?
Being an outsider did not make it any easier. It took a lot of time, patience and determination. There was no staging and no costumes. 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 were we able to actually look deeply into one another’s eyes. And after that there was immediate trust and open access. An amazing exchange between East and West.

Were there any surprises in your work?
Most people’s perceptions about the American West are through movies or books. The West has long been misidentified as a place full of men who spit and fight and who always carry a gun — sheriffs and deputies, bank robbers and saloonkeepers.
In fact, the men, women, and children of the West are honestly genuine, hardworking, generous, and authentically good people with all the right values. In their world, there is no glory or praise for singular achievements; honor is in keeping your word, contributing to their community, and willingness to sacrifice. They all come together to help and support one another. My work is a celebration of those values, the work ethic, the integrity, love for friends and family, community, and country, regardless of cultural background.

"Honor is in keeping your word, contributing to their community, and willingness to sacrifice. "

Why only black-and white-images?
I have a minimalistic approach, so the key components of the photograph stand out without any background distractions. I love the timeless feel of black and white, it best captures the humanity and truths that endures.

Can you think of a book (other than yours) or a film that everyone should read/watch to learn about the American West?
Having gone out West and having seen and explored the Cowboy life myself, it has been very hard to find books or movies that really depict a clean and “non Hollywood” or romanticized story about the American Cowboy in 2020, but I will say that I enjoyed watching the movie “The Rider”. It shows how Rodeo Cowboys are passionate about what they do. Nothing stops them.

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