The Federation Of Black Cowboys

Arthur “JR” Fulmore - The Federation of Black Cowboys

This was one of those situations that shows you never know where the flow of your career is gonna take you. Andrew Horton…the Creative Director at The Village Voice…asked if I wanted to shoot some Black Cowboys…in Queens. The Federation of Black Cowboys is a group of urban cowpokes whose goal is to promote knowledge of the “Black West”. Their Ponderosa for the past two decades is a ramshackle stable just off Conduit Boulevard in Howard Beach, but recently their membership has dwindled to around 20 die-hards and now they face losing the license agreement for the stables. Andrew and I wanted my portraits to capture a gritty, iconic essence of what it is to be a Cowboy…and we also agreed that our touchstone style should be an homage to Richard Avedon’s In The American West. So off to Queens we went…

Unlike Avedon, I wasn’t going to drag out the 8×10 and set up a North-Light studio in the shadow of a barn…

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Instead, we decided to make a huge wall of soft light by putting up the biggest lights I own…

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The only problem is, when you fly a 79″ parabolic light in 25mph wind as we had that day, the shit hits the fan awfully fast. Even with over 100lbs of sandbags on each 50lb Matthews Stand, it was like trying to hold down a racing sailboat in a Regatta! But I didn’t care…Kaz had to deal with it…

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But our basic setup was pretty similar to Avedon’s…a simple white seamless set up on the North side of one of the stables…

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And here’s how things turned out…

Arthur “J.R.” Fulmore…

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Arthur “JR” Fulmore - The Federation of Black Cowboys

“Mama” Kesha Morse…

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Sheryl “Kesha” Morse - The Federation of Black Cowboys

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“Mountain Man” Ellis Harris…

Ellis “Mountain Man” Harris - The Federation of Black Cowboy

Ellis “Mountain Man” Harris - The Federation of Black Cowboy

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Even though we had always conceived the shoot as a high-contrast Black & White series, we still wanted to see how things looked in color…

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…but in the end, the B&W was just too strong, and here’s how it looks in this week’s Village Voice

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Thanks to Andrew for giving me the opportunity to hang with some real cool cats…and special thanks to J.R., Kesha and Mountain Man for opening up the stables to a Dude from the City…

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8 thoughts on “The Federation Of Black Cowboys

  1. As usual, you have one of my favorite photo blogs on the net. I love the behind the scenes shots, the stories of what you had to do to get the images, and of course the finished photos. I always walk away inspired.

    By the way, black urban cowboys have been around since the early 1980s. One of my favorite “Friday Night Videos” featured 3 funky dudes… Click on the link and wait for it… http://www.vevo.com/watch/the-gap-band/party-train/USUV70600790 . Enjoy. ha ha

  2. So great photos! Very interesting to read about the equipment you use taking these excellent photos, compared to my small Canon and sunshine, and lousy shots.

  3. My Q, Cowboy Brad: Would you have gone Full Avedon (i.e., natural light, open shade) had you known you would be shooting for black and white?

    But we DID know the final images would likely be B&W…the thing is, the high-ISO capabilities of the Leaf Credo 60…even though it costs $30 Grand…are pretty shitty. Dick could load up sheets of 8×10 Tri-X and push it to 800 or so and get stunning results, but I rarely even go to 200 ISO because to do so degrades image quality. These shots were all at 50 ISO…strobe was built for this kinda thing! BT

  4. oh, did i not read with enough care? wouldn’t be the first time. and knowing you would be in the V. Voice, you didn’t want to use a nikon 800 or canon 5ds or some large-file 35mm equiv camera? love that american west book so much. i think he got $5 MILLION to do that project, right? and you have and have read and maybe even published that photo of Dick in action above from the Laura Wilson book, I trust?

    what’s next? waiting to see…

    thx for answering my question above.

  5. Hi Brad,
    Love the shoot Brad, I love the subjects as I’m a descendant of American folks from Oklahoma and Texas. They made their way to Alberta in 1905 to Amber Valley by Athabasca in Canada. Hope all is well.
    We met at Curtis’s house a few years ago.

    Take care
    Doug Murphy

  6. This is so gorgeous, everything. All that you do is so fresh! I love this story; the history, the reality. And you put pictures in – so it’s a beautifully illustrated story book! It’s always like that, your images drag me in and the next thing you know, I’ve had another wonderful, unexpected and surprising read with my cup of tea!

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