Evocative and immersive, stark and revealing, the extraordinary photography of British fine-art photographer, conservationist, and author, David Yarrow, has a story to tell. Yarrow’s large-scale pigment print photographs offer a unique perspective on the world, and nowhere is this more evident than in his recent series using the themes, iconic images, and Old West nostalgia as a foundation to stage photos with recognizable people and sentiment but with a distinctive and bold twist in plot.
Cindy Crawford traveling across a snow-dusted and deserted Montana landscape in a convertible with a gray wolf as companion. A weathered and aged cowboy and his horse walking towards the viewer form the very edge of Canyonlands, Utah, as if by chance. These are the images within this series.
Yarrow has long traveled the world, shooting wildlife in Namibia, Kenya, Rwanda, Alaska, and other remote outposts of wild natural beauty, but rarely has he dedicated an entire series to a single region—in this case, the American West. In the process, he not only deconstructs the myth and mystique of our ideas of the American West, but he builds a new narrative and story ends. It is no easy feat, yet Yarrow accomplishes it with stunning clarity and precision of craft.
“‘Wild West’ imagery is such a heavily populated genre that creatives run the risk of falling down a trope canyon, no matter their earnest endeavor,” says Yarrow. “It is challenging to transcend or be authentic. The legacy of Edward Curtis and Ansel Adams throws a heavy shadow over any contemporary photographer trying to pay homage to the American West.”
And yet, each image in Yarrow’s “Wild West” series captures pieces of the American spirit. It is as if the viewer has stepped onto the silver screen or inside the page of a storybook—the moment captured on film and immortalized in each large-scale print stands as a slice of time and emotion, a vignette of a much larger story.
The creative and imaginative genius of Yarrow is that the story he tells through his art form somehow manages to reference facets of pop culture while simultaneously echoing elements of the mythic, historical, and iconic. Brazilian model Alessandra Ambrosio sitting with Chief John Spotted Tail of the Lakota Sioux on a train outside Alder, Montana, or model and actress Cara Delevingne standing in an old mining village in the Southern Rockies to celebrate the heavily mythologized story of Bonnie and Clyde.
It is not without effort, however. Rudi Broschofsky, director of Broschofsky Galleries, where Yarrow’s “Wild West” work is being exhibited, points out that dozens of variables and forethought go into planning each image in order to have the end result match the artist’s vision.
“Most of these shots are really time sensitive and involve a lot of large up-front costs that are not guaranteed to work out: closing down entire streets, paying models, trained animals, weather, and light,” Broschofsky says. “An entire year of planning might come down to only a few moments where every detail needs to be absolutely perfect for David to attain his intended photograph. I think understanding all of these variables and all the planning that goes into a single photo tells a story in itself.”
A story within a story that becomes part of a much larger iconic narrative. That is the genius of David Yarrow and his stunning large-scale fine-art prints.
IN THE ARTIST’S WORDS
Earlier this month, I took this photograph of the legendary West Texas cowboy—Ty Mitchell—on a sandbank on the Rio Grande. Ty stands six-foot five-inches tall, and my general assessment is that not much fazes this guy. Meanwhile, the location is about as good as it gets, and is rather wonderfully named Contraband Creek.
I was standing in Mexico, and 20 yards across the river was the U.S. Every time I walked knee deep across the river to change a lens or camera, I entered America, and then on my return, I re-entered Mexico. I think I actually entered America four times in a morning—all rather surreal with this talk of a wall.
I would like to thank the U.S. Border Patrol in Texas for being so accommodating to our crew that day in Big Bend National Park. They, like me, must think “The Wall” is now a long way off because in 2020 the U.S. has a real crisis on its hands.
Coronavirus does not discriminate and does not recognize fame, borders, passports, race, or religion. It is the ultimate leveller and rams home our mortality and our fragility. There is little good news right now, but one eventual positive is that we should emerge from this as less selfish and less discriminating people.
IN THE ARTIST’S WORDS
Of course, we have worked in this room many times before and I know my light, my angles, and the minimal depth of focus. We called the photograph of mountain men at the bar “The Usual Suspects” as that is exactly what they were. Some of those men rarely leave the warmth of The Pioneer Bar in Virginia City throughout winter—in fact, they hibernate there. It proved such a popular image and has sold out across the world—in some cases, raising huge sums for charity.
So, when we went back last year, we thought it would be fun to have an additional crew member—Cindy Crawford. The word juxtaposition is over-used in narrative, but I think we can get away with it here. The old boys may drink a bit and smoke a bit of weed, but they were on their very best behavior that day, which is essentially still medieval. An international icon joining their party was not something they bargained for, and at least one cowboy convinced himself it was the weed. We had to call the image “The Unusual Suspects” as a nod to her presence.
The composition, which I could control, had to be spot on, but there is no way that I could control the wolf. It is a low percentage game this, and we only came away with one shot—but we got it. Cindy looks fantastically glamorous and a little “bad ass” in her role, but, as always, it is the mountain men that take away the Oscars. Roxanna Redfoot did a grand job too.