January 12, 2017


I think it was the creek that did it, or more specifically the ragged wall of half-dead, flash-flooded trees that bordered it. The businesslike trot that our little group had kept up for the last two hours didn’t slacken in the slightest as we pushed through the branches, crossed the dry creek bed, and leapt up the other side. I felt my camera, slung across my body, knock against something, and reached round a hand to steady it. To my horror I felt only the clean round edge of the lens – no lens cap.

Oh, well. After a moment of absolute panic, there was no choice but to shrug. The seven other members of that day’s cattle move were already ahead of me, and with a thick layer of mud and dried rushes all around there wasn’t really much hope of finding it.  But still – nine years of photography and obsessive camera protection later and I’d finally lost my first lens cap. I hummed a funeral march for it as we rode on.

I was mildly surprised to find that by the end of the day the lens had not, in fact, been ravaged beyond repair by dust and flying pebbles and molecules of cow poo, or whatever other evils can befall a naked lens on the prairie. Everything still worked, and a replacement cap is only $5.99 on Amazon. So no (real) harm done.

For someone who lived entirely in cities before coming out to be a working ranch’s photo and video intern, I suppose I should be grateful it took a full month before such a terrible sacrifice was asked of me. I spent a long time pumping myself up on the way here about how I could totally take on whatever challenges the Wild West had in store, and for the most part it hasn’t been too drastic. The rusted corpses of the manual-transmission ranch trucks will get you across sand dunes with alternate cursing and cajoling. Accidentally touching a live electric fence will give you a new 7 on your 1-10 pain scale – always useful to have. And huge, thundering heifers will actually give you a nice wide berth, if you’re faced with four of them in a narrow alley of the corrals, provided you yell and wave your arms frantically enough.

But of course, for any city kid transplanted beyond the reach of reliable LTE service, and especially for one whose job and general life revolves around photographs, some sort of social media sacrifice is also going to be required, in addition to equipment-related ones. In mere weeks the cool, semi-abstract Instagram aesthetic that I’d spent four years of art school carefully curating has come crashing down around my ears. With all of my current photographs consisting of sunlit horses galloping across the plains, or baby cows cuddling up next to their mothers, my ultra-chill, postmodern online persona has become increasingly hard to maintain. I scroll somewhat wistfully through my friends’ pictures of plastic bags half-submerged in puddles (geo-tagged in Queens), or a broken fairground toy lying next to a Big Mac wrapper (no caption, obviously) … then add another emoji to my photo of a newborn baby foal and happily post away.

So as I forgo the hospital-like cleanness of my camera lenses, and trade the Saatchi-inspired curation of my Instagram for gloriously representative golden-hour photos, I find myself quite enjoying this very hands-on, tangible side of photography that I hadn’t really experienced before. I have become my art theory professor’s worst nightmare, and I have to admit that I’m loving it.


By Ranchlands Film and Photography Intern Lucy Maude