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Exhibit Archives

Buckaroo: Photographs by Kurt Markus 
March 10 through May 14, 2005

Whitehorse Ranch, Fields, Oregon, by Kurt Markus
Whitehorse Ranch, Fields, Oregon 
Color photograph by Kurt Markus

Sponsored by Glacier Bank

Kurt Markus presents the legend of the buckaroo with incredible realism absent of slick mannerism. His timeless photographs explore the rugged yet romantic spirit of the cowboy. Through this significant body of work, Markus reveals an era that is all but forgotten today. In his photography, Markus documents a life style of solitude and difficulty, yet to the viewers, a sense of romance; a hard life of plain food, plain surroundings, horses, and exposure to the elements, and yet a simple life free of inherent stress. His photographic style is reminiscent of the same poetic manner that Montana cowboy artist Charles M. Russell rendered in paint and bronze at the turn of the century. Markus, a truly amazing photographer of the fashion and travel industry, is today an internationally renowned photographer.

Buckaroo is the debut of Markus’ western photos in Montana, and the only other exhibition of this work in the United States since its initial showing at the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

About Kurt Markus
Born in Whitefish, Montana in 1947, Kurt Markus began his career photographing the western landscape and cowboy life, and work in fashion and travel photography followed.  Markus’ work as a photographer is varied. His portfolio includes photographs of actors, architecture, advertising, athletes, women’s fashion, men’s fashion, landscapes, musicians, nudes, portraits of famous people, and travel portraits. His work has graced the covers and pages of such magazines as InStyle, GQ, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Vogue, Outside, Rolling Stone, Harper’s Bazaar, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, and the New York Times

Today, Markus’ work takes him all over the world shooting for major clients that include Ralph Lauren, Sony, Calvin Klein, The Gap, Banana Republic, Warner Brothers, Turner Films, Kodak, Liz Claiborne and his current project with Steven Spielberg and Dream Works. 

Markus’ work has been exhibited and published nationally and internationally. His books include After Barbed Wire, Buckaroo, Boxers, Dreaming Georgia, and the new Cowpuncher. Cowpuncher received the 2002 “Wrangler Award” for most outstanding art book of the year from the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Among other numerous awards to his credit is a Grammy Award nomination for his photograph used on the Tori Amos “Scarlet Walk” ad campaign. 

Markus currently lives in Kalispell, Montana with his wife Maria and their two sons,
Weston Montana, 21, and Ian Nevada,16, who is a Sophomore at Flathead High School. Both of his sons are interested in the world of photography and are following in their father’s footsteps. Weston works as second assistant to his father on major photographic shoots and Ian’s photographs have already been published in Vanity Fair and Outside Magazine

Markus started taking pictures 25 years ago. He is primarily known for his sense of realism and his decidedly “unslick” approach to image making. When asked his idea of beauty, Markus says, “A two-page spread, either in a magazine or in a book. On one page, great writing, presented in a beautiful typeface, classically designed, on the opposite, a memorable photograph. It doesn’t get any more beautiful than that.” About his work, Markus says, “I have been lucky in my work. I consider it a gift to have found photography and made my life in it. If I reflect for a moment on the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been, the memory gives me both satisfaction and energy. More than ever I am eager to do the work I love.” 

But photography has also brought questions: “Because I live in Montana and because photography is in many respects a solitary profession, I have often felt isolated. How does such-and-such photographer feel? I’ve wondered. How do other photographers who I admire get up in the morning and ready themselves for picture making?” To answer these questions, Markus convinced several magazines to assign him to interview other photographers. He interviewed David Bailey, William Klein, William Clift, Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis, Edouard Boubat, Max Dupain, and others. He describes the benefit of these experiences in this way: “Each of these encounters has taken me out of my world long enough to be able to return to mine with renewed eyes.”

Excepts from Kurt Markus's book

I was not born to ranching. I was born a daydreamer, and I know of no slot for one of those on any ranch. At times I am saddened that I am not what I photograph. Always the observer, seldom the participant, what I am made of remains unanswered. My distance protects me, physically and emotionally; from getting as busted up as I ought to sometimes. Which is why you’re not going to get the whole truth from me. I have entered into an unspoken, unwritten and generally inscrutable pact with the people I have photographed and lived among: if I promise not to tell all I know about them, they will do the same for me. In most cases, I have more to hide.

My consolation is a simple-heartedness I would not exchange. The greenest cowboy alive has my respect, and I have no problem whatsoever photographing people who are possessed with the determination to do what I cannot. The awful truth is that I love all of cowboying, even when everything has gone wrong and it’s not looking to get any better. Sometimes I especially like it that way. 

This book has been inside me from the start, from the day Charlotte Hill picked me up at the Lakeview, Oregon, bus depot and drove me to the MC and her husband’s crew and country. That was April, 979 – not so long ago, actually, but long enough for nearly every outfit I’ve been on since to have changed considerably. And I’m not saying the changes have been entirely on the downward slide. It’s just that life in the Great Basin is different now, and that this book speaks of an era when you could cross railroad tracks to get to the wrong side of town in Elko, Nevada. The wrong side is still there; it’s the tracks that are gone.

The writing that follows is pulled from various sources. I retrieved some passages from 3 x 5 inch notebooks I pack in my pocket wherever I go and in which I sometimes write. One of the allowances I gave myself when I began these journals ten years ago was that I would not return to them in the future and demand anything, but that was a shallow lie to myself. In recent days, I dug through them one by one, all twenty-eight of them. The only things I was able to salvage from the wreckage of those tormented years of scribbling were a few scraps, and I include them here to bring a moment or two of immediacy – what it was like then, as it happened.

The Great Basin never received the attention it has deserved for so long. It is the region I went to in the beginning and kept returning to, long after it was photographically necessary. I sometimes refer to these Great Basin buckaroos as cowboys, and in many instances the two words are interchangeable. But outside the Great Basin, cowboys are generally not called buckaroos, unless, of course, they have drifted out of their home country.  

In the last couple years I have become as drawn to the fringe of cowboying as I am to its heart, so you’ll encounter photographs without buckaroos. The landscapes are places where cows live; the people either serve buckaroos in special ways (bartenders, cooks, cobblers, madams), they make the tools of the buckaroo trade or they speak of the life through art. My selection of pictures is purely subjective and in no way pretends to be inclusive. 

What is a Buckaroo?
I found out quickly that the cowboy West isn’t a uniform blend from Texas to Montana. There are pockets of cowboying, each with its own distinctive texture of dress, gear, language, and technique. 

The West breaks into three groups: buckaroos (Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, and California), cowpunchers (Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona), and cowboys (Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Canada). As certainly as I have made my boundaries, Cowboys draw their own; some are not going to like the company I’ve put them in. But they will at least get the drift of my thinking, and most will agree, yeah, it’s like that. 

Discovering the buckaroos was, for me, a shock. Why had no one told me about them? Why had they been kept a secret in a country that held the cowboy as its national image?

One thing about most buckaroos, you sure as hell notice them. They look a lot like the cowboys Charlie Russell painted: open-crowned hats with short, flat brims; long ropes, often of braided or twisted rawhide; colorful scarves tied at the neck; high-heeled boots; slick-forked saddles and eagle-bill tapaderos nearly touching the ground; bridled-up horses packing silver-mounted spade bits; big-roweled spurs, also silver-mounted; jinglebobs; vests and dapper jackets from secondhand stores. And pride, plenty of pride. 

In buckaroo country there is a “Californio” tradition of mañana horsemanship, the movement of a young horse from snaffle to hackamore, to two-rein, to bridle, which if all goes smoothly, takes years. There is no room for shortcuts in the system because omissions will show up later.

To many buckaroos, cows are something you train horses on. You are a horseman first and a cowman second. It is an attitude that controls their lives. It isn’t surprising that buckaroos put everything they have into gear. 

~Kurt Markus,

Hockaday Museum of Art  
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