In Montana, self-taught photographer Kristen Schurr captures the Western lifestyle and cowboy culture.
Written by Karine Monié
“My background is not as traditional as many of those who are involved in the Western industry and ranching,” Kristen Schurr confesses. “I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where my dad was a fishing guide and my mom worked in [the] corporate [world]. When I was 7, my parents got divorced and I began spending a lot of time at a horse stable. I remember the first day I showed up and one of the other girls just got bucked off this beautiful bay mare. So, when I got to pick the horse I wanted to ride the next day, of course, stubborn wild me, picked that same gorgeous bay mare.”
For some years, Schurr left horses behind for a softball career that grew while she was in college. A few years after graduating, however, her calling reappeared. “I packed up my truck and drove out to Montana,” Schurr remembers. “I’ve always liked the cowboy atmosphere of eastern Montana. I think this area somewhat chose me. I’ve lived in other parts of the state, but life circumstances kept drawing me back [here]. What I love most is the remoteness. … I see more cows than people on a daily basis and I love it.” Passionate about ranch life, Schurr ropes, rides and works cattle. “I’ve learned so much from the older generation and other handy cowboys,” she says, adding that they touch her soul.
About three years ago, Schurr started to photograph on a regular basis, but as of last June she was doing it full time. “I’m mostly self-taught; I listen to podcasts, watch videos, go out and shoot my camera,” she says. “I have always found beauty in our lifestyle out West. I aim to show that vision to others through my photography.” Schurr’s images not only capture the beauty of horses and the unique style of every cowboy and cowgirl, but also showcases every detail from this lifestyle: ropes, boots, dirt in the rodeo arena, among other elements. “I find inspiration in the bawl of a newborn calf, the jingle of a spur, the sound of a fresh cracked beer, the thunder of horses’ hooves, the roar of a rodeo crowd, the Jake brakes of a semi loaded with cattle, and so much more,” she says. “I consider my artistic style to be grungy, textured and bold. … I like to think of it as punchy meets modern.”
Profoundly influenced and inspired by Western culture, Schurr inevitably gives a special place to the Duke. “I think deep down John Wayne is a reference for everyone,” she says. “His work and personality are something to keep engrained in all of us. John Wayne exemplifies [taking] the lead, just as he’s done in most of his major roles on screen. He is a model of how to live life, to not be weak, and to always have courage in whatever you pursue.”
While the busiest time of the year for ranchers is starting, Schurr plans to document the “fall run,” a process where she says, “the neighboring ranches gather, [and] sort and ship their calves.” Among other upcoming projects: a coffee table book with black-and-white photography and all things cowboy, and new products for her website. Why rein her in?
Photos courtesy of Kristen Schurr. Portrait by Chris Douglas Photography.