John Langmore's Open Range, ensures the scene still exists, and the Cowboy will live on.
By Jim Mundorf
When I sat down with John Langmore's new book Open Range. I thought I knew exactly what it was and couldn't wait to take it in. John spent 6 years photographing Cowboys on the some of the country's largest ranches. There is a documentary film coming out later this year, but first the book. When I opened it up the photos were just what I thought they'd be, and did not disappoint. They capture intimate moments in some of the west's most remote settings. As I turned the pages I was careful to soak up the details before moving on, but then about three quarters of the way through the photos suddenly stopped, and I was instantly disappointed. Like every good photographer he left me wanting more, and there were more pages, they were just filled with words. I flipped through the pages to the end and realized that was it, no more pictures. Reluctantly I started reading and quickly my disappointment faded. This is not the writings of a photographer, but the tales of a Cowboy, turned lawyer, turned photographer. I have read about as many Cowboy books and stories as most anyone, to the point where many are repetitive for me, but this one is unique.
As a 12 year old, in 1975, John was dropped off at Benny Binion's Montana ranch to work for the summer. He returned every summer to work as a Cowboy for 11 years. John's stories range from horse wrecks, to having one of the most notorious men in America order him to shoot the ranch cook. But his writings are more than just his stories. He has spent the last 28 years finishing law school and working as a lawyer. Fortunately for us, John writes, "Looking back, I now appreciate how inevitable it was that my growing passion for photography would eventually connect with my dormant affinity for the American cowboy." John has the truly unique perspective of someone who worked as a cowboy in the 70's and 80’s, left the life completely and returned in 2014.
The book gives entertaining incite into the life of the modern day cowboy. John explains the work and the ranch operations through the seasons. He describes in detail some of the traditions, the unwritten and even unspoken rules that the big-outfit cowboys operate under. He goes into detail about differences between the ranches in the North and South. John does a great job explaining the challenges facing ranchers today in a way that the general public can understand. Something that I believe more western artists, that have large wide ranging audiences, need to do more of.
The most fascinating description given is of the how the work and cowboys have changed over the years. His conclusion... it hasn't. Of course there have been changes but as he sees it, it has been, "modernized only at the edges." As I finished the book I sat staring at the back cover, it is a photograph of a line up of cowboys taken in 2014, without looking to closely it could easily be mistaken for a photograph taken in the 1800's. How is that? How has the cowboy, whose lifestyle was predicted to end over 100 years ago, continued to endure relatively unchanged? As I sat and pondered this question, I realized I was holding the answer in my hands. John Langmore's book gives us detailed photographs and words to inspire future generations. Where would the cowboy be if Charlie Russell hadn't picked up a brush, or Will James hadn't picked up a pen, if Erwin Smith hadn't picked up a camera, or if Will Rodgers hadn't stepped out on stage, or if John Wayne hadn't stepped in front of the camera? The cowboy profession has been the most well documented lifestyle in the history of this country. It is because of that, that the Cowboy lives on. We have many artists and writers to thank for that. You can add John Langmore to that list.
Click the link to purchase John Langmore’s Open Range, and use code, langmore10, to receive a $10 discount.