For more than a decade, photographer Luis Fabini immersed himself in cowboy culture as he traveled through North and South America. This stunning collection of photographs from those travels reveals the cowboy who lives in silence and solitude, the interconnectedness of these men with the land, and a traditional way of life that exists on the outskirts of society but also vividly in our imaginations.
Fabini gives us introductions to the lives and histories of the men he lived with along his journey. In the book, Fabini provides the background to each specific locale, which gives the reader important knowledge to understand how the role of the gaucho, vaqueiro, charro, or cowboy began and evolved over time. We are introduced to the intrinsic philosophy within the first few pages of the book — the land is as important as the man. When Fabini asks a gaucho named Luis Alberto, “Who is the gaucho?”, after a long pause, Alberto replies, “The gaucho is the land he treads upon.” Fabini quickly made the connection between man and landscape — and his work shows it.
The images Fabini presents the reader are about the land and how man interacts with it, as much as it is about the cowboy himself. Epic landscapes are included with the portraits of these ‘men of the land’. These landscapes incorporate the movement of man and animal, man and the elements, and the struggle each endures. The portraits Fabini made are frank, and made without stylized treatment of his subjects. They are not presented as glorious stereotypes; rather they are the archetypes that gave rise to them. Everything worn has a purpose. Hats have function, scarves have a purpose, and tradition endures for very practical reasons. There isn’t room for anything but pragmatism out in nature.
The romanticism of these men and their lives is an aspect that has made the Western-movie or Country & Western music such an attractive life for many people who don’t have to live it. The reality of life for the Brazilian pantaneiro is not one of Hollywood fable. It is difficult, dangerous, and daunting. Yet one cannot help but be moved by the beauty and drama of Fabini’s images of driving 6,000 head of cattle through endless wetlands toward their ultimate auction and slaughter.
An eloquent text by anthropologist and author Wade Davis reflects on the long relationship between horses and humans, describes the significance of Fabini’s work, and illuminates the enduring spirit of cowboy culture. Davis’ words are poetic, descriptive and are a wonderful compliment to the romance and prose of the cowboy life as captured by Fabini. When I read Davis’ text, I ‘heard it’ in the manner befitting a documentary film by Ken Burns, narrated by Morgan Freeman. There is a majesty and reverence to Davis’ words, which is a perfect compliment for this subject matter.
Cowboys of the Americas by Luis Fabini with text by Wade Davis
© 2016 Publisher: Greystone Books (November 15, 2016)
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LUIS FABINI was born in Uruguay and began his career as a travel photographer in South America. His interest in photography began at age seven, when his father put a camera in his hands before the two embarked on a trip across the Andes. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can see more of his work at his website: http://www.luisfabini.net/
WADE DAVIS is an anthropologist, author, and explorer. He is the author of numerous books, including Into the Silence, Sacred Headwaters and The Wayfinders. He has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet, and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.”
Originally published at F-Stop Magazine.