Big skies. Jaunty hats. Gunslings. Spurs. Dusty jeans. Faithful horses. Lone figures riding off into the sunset. These are just some of the clichéd images that spring to mind when you think about cowboys.
But Finnish photographer Karoliina Paatos is interested in exploring the other parts – the ordinary, rarely referenced parts of the real lives of real-life cowboys.
Her project, and accompanying book, is named American Cowboys, and it certainly succeeds in casting the West’s most stereotyped occupations in a new light. Sure, there are the occasional shots that capture the more traditional side of things – sheep-wrangling; big, crazy buckles on belts slung through blue jeans; men astride horses in vast landscapes against a backdrop of forbidding mountains.
But the most compelling shots are the low-key ones – the little cowgirl resting her head on a rock as she contemplates the view from her lookout; elderly hands grappling to tag the ear of a struggling calf; the lone cowboy sinking deep into a dishevelled old armchair in his messy, minimally furnished lounge room.
In this interview with Feature Shoot, Paatos touches on this subtle purpose in her work. “I see my book," she says, "as a visual and emotional journey into a way of life that is not easy. I’m also showing there a more intimate and less-seen side of a culture many of us think we know.”