Feature
Western Exposure
The photographs of Erwin E. Smith, cowboy photographer

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    Fighting It Out
    IMAGE: Erwin E. Smith (1886-1947). Gelatin dry plate negative, 1909. LC.S6.046. Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on deposit at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. © Erwin E. Smith Foundation
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    Fighting It Out
    IMAGE: Erwin E. Smith (1886-1947). Gelatin dry plate negative, 1909. LC.S6.046. Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on deposit at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. © Erwin E. Smith Foundation
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    Erwin E. Smith feeding horse near Bonham, Texas.
    IMAGE: Erwin E. Smith (1886-1947). Gelatin dry plate negative, 1908. P1986.41.135. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. Bequest of Mary Alice Pettis. © Erwin E. Smith Foundation
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    Photographer Erwin E. Smith eating a mid-morning snack of canned tomatoes, an important item in the early days of a cowboy’s diet. O R Ranch, 1909.
    IMAGE: Erwin E. Smith (1886-1947). Gelatin dry plate negative, 1909. LC.S6.001. © Erwin E. Smith Foundation
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    Two Shoe Bar cowboys having a difficult time “tailing down” a cow. Shoe Bar Ranch, Texas.
    IMAGE: Erwin E. Smith (1886-1947). Nitrate negative, 1912. LC.S59.035. © Erwin E. Smith Foundation
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    Cowpunchers holding the remuda (band of horses) to rope out mounts. Spur Range, Texas.
    IMAGE: Erwin E. Smith (1886-1947). Gelatin dry plate negative, 1909. LC.S6.083. © Erwin E. Smith Foundation
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    George Pattullo, writer and cowboy from Boston, receives a haircut from Harry Campbell, matador cowboy. Matador Ranch, 1908.
    IMAGE: Erwin E. Smith (1886-1947). Gelatin dry plate negative, 1908. LC.S6.228. Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on deposit at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. © Erwin E. Smith Foundation
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    Web Extra: ‘A Bad Horse’ by Erwin E. Smith (no date)
    IMAGE: Courtesy of the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University
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    Web Extra: ‘Cow-pony’ by Erwin E. Smith (no date)
    IMAGE: Courtesy of the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University
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    Web Extra: ‘Cowboy Standing next to mount’ by Erwin E. Smith (no date)
    IMAGE: Courtesy of the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University
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    Web Extra: ‘Erwin Smith in Sombrero’ (no date)
    IMAGE: Courtesy of the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University
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    Web Extra: ‘The Horse-Wrangler and His Saddle Bunch’ by Erwin E. Smith, circa 1908
    IMAGE: Courtesy of the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University
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    Web Extra: ‘Just Roped’ by Erwin E. Smith (no date)
    IMAGE: Courtesy of the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University
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    Web Extra: ‘Matador Trail Herd on the Move’ by Erwin E. Smith, 1910
    IMAGE: Courtesy of the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University
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    Web Extra: ‘Roping Horse from Remuda’ by Erwin E. Smith (no date)
    IMAGE: Courtesy of the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University

Only a cowboy can truly understand the cowboy way of life. That’s the rule photographer Erwin Smith followed as he learned the rigors of ranching and documented the world of the working cowhand. Once he acquired cowboying skills, he relied on them to earn his access to the wranglers and range bosses and camp cooks who would become the subjects for his art. Even though he studied painting and sculpture in Chicago and Boston, Smith chose photography as the ideal medium to capture the old-time cowboy culture.

From his early years in Bonham, Erwin E. Smith observed that popular American films and literature created an inaccurate image of the American cowboy. The great trail rides were past, the roundups and chuck-wagon cooking and bronc-busting were very much present.

“Smith said he wanted to do with his photography what Charles Russell did with his painting: to maintain a sense of documentary realism by being truthful to the world with work created in an artistically pleasing way,” explains John Rohrbach, senior curator of photographs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, where the definitive collection of Smith’s photographs now resides.

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Charles Lohrmann, editor

Learn More

• The Southwestern & Mexican Photography Collection, part of the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos, houses an impressive collection of photographs ranging from historical documentary images to works by 20th-century masters of the medium, including Erwin E. Smith.

 

• The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth offers extensive online resources to accompany its Erwin Smith collection. In addition to its comprehensive inventory of Erwin Smith’s images, the museum offers details about the influences that helped shape and guide Erwin Smith’s career and lesson plans along with classroom activities on the photographer, the American West and cowboy culture.

TAGS: Photography, Texana


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