Focus on the West

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For more than 25 years, Arizona-based photographer Scott Baxter has been depicting authentic Western and ranch culture.

 Written by Karine Monié

Scott Baxter’s fine art photography has been exhibited in the Phoenix Art Museum, Tucson Museum of Art, Desert Caballeros Western Museum, Taos Art Museum and Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Museum. Baxter, however, didn’t plan to become a photographer. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, and raised outside of Princeton, New Jersey, he graduated from the Peddie School in Hightstown and received his B.A. in history from Ohio’s College of Wooster in 1979, then moved to Arizona.

“I was accepted into the graduate program for an M.F.A. [at Arizona State] but was offered a job as an assistant to a commercial photographer in Phoenix,” he remembers. “During my apprenticeship, I decided to pursue photography as a career.” He launched his studio in 1987.

Baxter lives on the historic X Diamond Ranch located in Apache County. “The X Diamond was established in 1893 and remains in the same family,” he explains. “It is just down the road from the 26 Bar Ranch, which was owned by John Wayne and is currently owned by the Hopi Tribe. Wink Crigler, owner of the X Diamond, and her late husband Oscar Crigler, used to run the commercial cattle operation for John Wayne on the 26 Bar. My friendship with Wink Crigler led me [here].”

Baxter’s work focuses on Arizona’s ranching and cowboy culture, highlighting the diminishing number of folk and families who pursue this lifestyle. “Living on a ranch that has actual familial and working connections to John Wayne influences me from the historical context that allow me to create authentic imagery,” Baxter says. “I see myself mostly as a portrait photographer who documents the Western culture through visual storytelling. I also photograph artists, writers and musicians who are intrinsically woven into the fabric of Western life.” His process includes a lot of research before shooting and producing the final images. Inspired by the subjects that he wants to honor, Baxter is also influenced by writer and poet Jim Harrison; writer Thomas McGuane; painters Maynard Dixon, Peter Hurd and Howard Post; and photographers Dorothea Lange, Jay Dusard, Kurt Markus and Laura Wilson.

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“Living on a ranch that has actual familial and working connections to John Wayne influences me from the historical context that allow me to create authentic imagery.”

— Scott Baxter

John Wayne is a key reference, as well. “[Duke] represents the embodiment of the Western culture of hard work, honesty, integrity and authenticity,” Baxter says of the same values he aims to capture through his images. “I strive to allow my subjects to come to me, as opposed to attempting to pose them or structure the photograph too tightly,” he says. One of the best examples is Baxter’s recently completed compilation, “100 Years 100 Ranchers” (a 10-year official Legacy Project for the Arizona Centennial), which includes large format black-and-white photographs depicting many of Arizona’s longest active ranchers. Baxter is already at work on what’s next, and he has dedicated himself to two long-term projects that are currently taking all his energy: a regional rodeo documentary study and a portrait project of Western musicians, writers and poets. Expect the final results to be as captivating as everything Baxter has done so far, adding a layer of depth to his compelling vision of Western culture and its people.

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Photographs courtesy of Scott Baxter