Once you leave Hinckley Utah you’re pretty much on your own till you come to the Borderline Casino about ninety miles down the road. I’d been driving for hours on this deserted two-lane without passing any signs of life along the way. It’s the kind of road where if you stop to pee you can just let loose anywhere cause no one’s going to see you… Darcy and I were on our way to Great Basin National Park and a motel nearby, but first, we were making a stop in Baker to pick up some supplies.
Baker Nevada is a bend in the road on hwy 487. It’s what’s called a census-designated place, only about 70 people living in a small cluster of homes and a couple of stores. Among them is the Bristlecone General Store, a place for food and conversation. And poking around the store I notice a rack of business cards with one that says; High Desert Ranch Wife Photography. Flipping it over I read; Photos of a real working ranch — Tana Baker, the real working ranch wife, and then a website. Well you know I have to check that out.
Now before I go on, let’s take a minute here to make it clear how far we are from everything as I stand here looking at this card. The nearest town is probably Ely, about 60 miles away. Salt Lake is a modest 229 miles; Carson City about 320 miles if you head in the other direction. So we are not just nowhere, we are in the center of nowhere. And somewhere out here some person named Tana Baker has been taking pictures of life on a cattle ranch and putting them on a website to show the world. And Tana is not just spending a week or two shooting pictures of life on the ranch, she’s been telling this story for years.
And when I look, here is what I see. For the most part, Tana is not showing us Life magazine photography with the herd and the cowboys beautifully photographed from the edge of the action. Instead, her pictures have been made while riding with the herd; she shows us what it’s like to be in the middle of the work, and she shows us what happens in the in-between moments when most people put their cameras away. It’s a different view.
What she shows you about cattle ranching is the parts that most stories leave out. There is dust and heat of course — or snow if you wait a few months, and there are cowboys and cowgirls doing hard things so we can eat a cheap burger. Because one thing that Tana makes clear, is that this is not an easy life. She shows you the everyday details, the hundred little things that make this more than a simple essay. Her blog takes you back across the years. As I click through the pages I begin to see the rhythms of her life out here, the calving and moving herds to pasture, the culling of the weak, and an accepting dependence on weather. This is an older way of living she is showing us. One more bound to the cycles of life than we often experience in the city.
And one more thing I love is her comments, interspersed between the photos. They are so directly about what she is photographing and its importance to life on the ranch. Weather has life or death meaning, water isn’t a given, her horse so much a part of what she does that she writes … “I always try to include some of my horse in the picture so I can remember who I was riding that day …” and this one that tells you a lot about the reality of taking these pictures … “I should remind you that every time I take a picture I have to take my glove off, and it never fails, at least once in the day I drop it. I should explain how big of a deal dropping my glove is. For one thing, I am wearing about 42 layers of clothes and warm boots. I also ride a VERY tall horse and for those of you that don’t know me, I am a whopping 5 foot 4. So getting off and back on does have its challenges.”…
It’s not all pretty what she pictures. Corresponding back and forth with Tana she writes me, “I want to warn you now about some of the things you are going to see. If the sight of animals being roped and thrown to the ground so that they can be tagged or castration or a hundred other things that happen as part of ranching better to move on to the next story” and she’s right of course. But that’s neither the focus nor the point of these pictures; it’s just part of her life and she shows it.
I wonder if there isn’t a gallery owner somewhere who might want to recognize this work and get Tana to mount a show. Some of it is iPhone photography but all of it harkens back to the beginnings of photography when people traveled around the world making pictures to bring the unseen to the rest of us. Better yet, some smart book publisher should explore the story that could be told but I’ll leave it to them to get on with it. For me, I’m just glad that Tana Baker has taken the time to show me what her world feels like and I think you might like to see it too.
Tana Baker – High Desert Ranch Wife Photography – https://www.highdesertranchwife.com/
Story by Andy Romanoff
Pictures at https://andyromanoff.zenfolio.com/
Writing at https://medium.com/stories-ive-been-meaning-to-tell-you
YouTube Channel at Youtube