‘Once upon a time was Kate. She was white as flowers, warm as sun-shine, wild as whiskey and swinging like a lamp.’ – Desmond Skirrow
Atlas Gallery presents a selection of cinematic black and white prints from the historic photobook Cowboy Kate & Other Stories (1964) shot by South African-British photographer Sam Haskins. Haskins and his wife Alida dreamt up the spirited Cowboy Kate after a model playfully posed in Haskins’ studio with her own black suede hat. Haskins’ dynamic photographs tell the tale of Kate’s youthful adventures fighting for justice in the Old West as she leaps lightly from page to page with a spring in her step.
Cowboy Kate is a benchmark in the history of photography. Executing his photographs with technical and directorial mastery, Haskin’s cinematic approach and sensitivity to his subject matter made the book one of the most original photographic developments of the Sixties. It was the first photo book ever to offer a purely visual fictional narrative, and in doing so turned an unknown model into a fashion industry icon.
Located within a traditional Western setting, Haskins creates a subtly engaging narrative using theatrical props. His manipulation of grain and blur convey varying degrees of movement and emotion across the pages with a pervading sense of fun. The book demonstrates Haskins’ talent for image and page design, the sequence of double page spread layouts creating tension and tempo. The narrative, given written form by Desmond Skirrow after the book was complete, tells Kate’s story with a poetic touch that captures the sense of effervescence in Haskins’ photographs.
The light-hearted and lyrical storytelling of Cowboy Kate on her youthful and daring adventures in the West catches Haskins’ natural flair for entertainment which always remained grounded in a highly-disciplined, craft-driven approach to creative photography. The athletic cheekiness of Cowboy Kate, with her tousled hair and tilted hat, captivated its original 1960s audience; Haskins’ liberated aesthetic speaking to the emerging zeitgeist of the period. His sensitive reinvention of the nude created a book that celebrated the innocence of youth and wholesome beauty with timeless appeal.
“Kate appeared totally comfortable in her skin,” wrote Philippe Garner, former head of photographs at Christie’s, in the introduction to the 2006 edition. “… a pose that could only flow from an informal, albeit carefully considered strategy and an intuitive rapport between photographer and subject. He [Haskins] then develops the flow of the spreads with a cinematographer’s sensitivity to pace, energy and rhythm.”
Cowboy Kate & Other Stories is one of Haskins’ most important projects from his early career, along with Five Girls (1962), November Girl (1967) and African Image (1967). Cowboy Kate is the most influential of these and, as the most referenced in post-war photography, it continues to influence international artists, photographers, make-up designers, pop stars and fashion designers.
Cowboy Kate and Other Stories or ‘Kate’ as the book is often referred to, had its place in photographic history cemented in 2005 when the International Center of Photography in New York included the book in their exhibition, The Open Book: A History of the Photographic Book from 1878 to the Present. When it was first published in 1964, Cowboy Kate and Other Stories won the prestigious Prix Nadar in France and since then has sold almost one million copies worldwide.
- A limited edition of the book Cowboy Kate & Other Stories will be released to coincide with the exhibition.
- Atlas Gallery will be exhibiting Sam Haskins’ work, including Cowboy Kate, at Paris Photo (6-10 November 2019).
Cowboy Kate & Other Stories
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SAM HASKINS
18 September – 16 November 2019
49 Dorset Street, London W1U 7NF