Documenting home — out on the range
A Hudson Valley photographer documents the hardworking ranchers across rural America
For the past four years, Richard Beaven, 47, has been traveling all over the country photographing cattle ranchers and their families.
Both Beaven and his wife grew up in farming communities in the United Kingdom, and when they moved to New York's Hudson Valley in 2005 they found themselves once again surrounded by the familiar, physical trade. Inspired, Beaven picked up his camera and launched his pet project, "Angusmen."
"Angus ranching has always been a very challenging lifestyle, with many and various head winds," Beaven says. "In spite of all that, they press on. It is their culture, identity, and passion. That's the story I am telling, and it is a positive one about rural America in the face of so many negative trends."
At first, Beaven photographed the people working for neighbor Phil Trowbridge. But he has since expanded his lens to include families in Iowa, Kansas, and Montana. Each time Beaven finds a new contact, he travels out to the farm and spends several days at the site. He'll make up to four or five such "Angusmen"-specific trips each year.
"The nature of this work demands immersion," Beaven says. "It wouldn't be feasible to dip in and out. Inevitably, the subjects become friends. They are gracious with their time and hospitality."
And Beaven's photographs of these hard-working ranchers doing what they do best reveal an obvious respect for the trade. The locales are often serene, while the subjects are strong, methodical, and in control. But to get such shots, Beaven has to get his hands dirty.
"I have had some exciting moments on horseback during this project," he says. "I am not an experienced rider at all, but it comes with the territory. Never believe anyone who tells you that photographing from the back of a horse is easy!"
Some of the families Beaven reaches out to are excited to be photographed; others take more convincing.
At one farm, he sensed that the team worried the pictures might be taken out of context, or used to present their way of life in a flippant manner. So Beaven swapped his camera for a pair of gloves and worked as a ranch hand for the day.
"When I picked my camera back up the next day, I was able to make some of what I consider to be the strongest images in the project," he says.
"Sometimes, you just have to earn your spurs."
There will always be more to photograph, but Beaven sees the project coming to a natural close one day.
"It is constantly evolving, and there is more depth to achieve," he says. "I don't see an end in sight just yet. That said, I imagine arriving at a point where I feel a strong edit of the images will capture the spirit of 'Angusmen.'"
"I can't define that moment," he notes. "But I will know it when I see it."