Arizona ArtBeat: 100 Years 100 Ranchers

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Scott Baxter has spent much of the last decade driving across Arizona to photograph ranchers whose families have been ranching in Arizona since 1912 or earlier. Get a preview of this project that will be completed in time for Arizona’s Centennial celebration.

Ted Simons: Tonight's "Arizona art beat" takes us on the road with photographer Scott Baxter. He's in the final phase of a massive photography project that's scheduled to be completed in time for Arizona's centennial. The project is called "100 years, 100 ranchers." Baxter's been working on it for much of the last decade as he travels the state photographing Arizona ranching families who have been in business since 1912 or earlier. Producer David Majure and Photographer Scott Olson met up with Baxter at a ranch in southern Arizona.

Scott Baxter: Hey!

Scott Baxter: Some of these ranches we're photographing aren't going to be around because development will find its way in and there's a lot of ranches I know that there's no one coming up behind them and they'll most likely be sold and I thought, what if fantastically I could -- photographically I would record them that were here since 1912 or earlier. I just wanted to see if I could accomplish it.

Scott Baxter: We call it "100 years, 100 ranchers" and the criteria is the family has been ranching in Arizona continuously since 1912 or earlier.
Henry Amado: My ancestors came here from Spain in the 1840s and coming to Tucson by covered wagon.

Henry Amado: This is the -- this is my great grandfather. By 1852 is when they set up to ranch here.

Scott Baxter: This family is a very historic family and goes back a long way and a beautiful ranch too. One of my favorite places to be in the whole state -- Santa Cruz county. The photographs should be easy to look at. Doesn't mean it has to be Pollyannish. But easy. And then it's good. If I push too hard and try too hard to push a photograph, it doesn't work out for me. I let the photograph come to me. There's not a set process.

Scott Baxter: Want to get the brand on the horse's shoulder.

Scott Baxter: I started scouting the day before knowing I wanted to use the sycamore tree. There's not a -- you know, I don't have a list what I'm going to do. I walk in and -- and -- it's the way I always work. Wing it and kind of works for me. Doesn't work for everyone, but it does for me.

Scott Baxter: The last one with the camera for now at least.

Henry Amado: I was standing there --

Henry Amado: Straight in --

Henry Amado: -- by the tree and between two horses and with my son and grandson beside me. Very proud.

Scott Baxter: Just gives you an idea. It's a small shot.

Scott Baxter: I want to show that pride. As a group, they're very proud of their heritage and proud of what they do.

Scott Baxter: That's where we're at. We're going to shoot a few more with this camera. With the portraits, you take a little more time and get the frame the way you want it and read the light and shoot it.

Scott Baxter: 125.

Henry Amado: I think it's a wonderful thing that Scott came one this idea.

Henry Amado: This is actually very nice, where we're at now.

Henry Amado: It's recorded history.

Scott Baxter: I don't think they're looking for recognition but I think they like the fact there's going to be a record of this somewhere. For their kids and for the future generations.

Scott Baxter: For me, forget about the pictures, it's the experience, to travel around the state and I usually average -- get into a ranch and getting back, usually three and a half hours each way. It's a lot of miles. Tens of thousands, but I like driving and a get to see a lot of the state. I treated this in a lot of ways just like it could have been shot, you know, 100 years ago. I bring a digital with me, but that's to shoot stuff for them. We're shooting straight black and white, and it's camera, film and a tripod and that forces me to think about composition because I don't have a lot of tricks in my bag and makes you think as a photographer. [Mooing]

Scott Baxter: The brandings can be exciting. You have got two guys roping and drags calfs and three or four cowboys. Sometimes with the action stuff, I don't have time to do too much but hang in there.

Scott Baxter: You don't want to be the cause of somebody getting hurt or the cause of livestock gets injured and certainly don't want to get hurt yourself. You stay dialed in to the frame but you have to have a few things going on in your head at the same time and keep yourself cognizant of what's going on around you.

Henry Amado: He's going to brand one. Move your knee!

Scott Baxter: I learned a lot. I wasn't aware I was going to brand a calf yesterday. It was an honor that Henry asked me.

Henry Amado: I was surprised this guy has not had that kind of experience.

Henry Amado: When he branded the first calf, he kind of got a happy smile with it. Well now you're going to learn to castrate a calf.
Henry Amado: And he did one. So he's an expert now ...
Scott Baxter: Now this one is a bit more --- this like the old style.
Scott Baxter: I have not had a bad experience. And I've got a story for every single ranch that I've been in.
Scott Baxter: That's perfect. Hold it right there - you know the photographs are the icing on the cake, but the real thing is I just --
[voices] That's it? Thank you sir. It's in? it's in.
Scott Baxter: You know there are a great group of people. I have just been honored to have some time with family and just meet them.
Henry Amado: The tele-business is ok. It's going to keep going. For e.g. this now renting out for sale. It will continue. One of the kids' maybe, son-in-law, grand-son-in-law. Who knows? But they will, they will keep it going.

Scott Baxter: They are all hard working. They are just hard working people who just like what they do. And they really love their land. And that's the kind of thing I come away with. They really love this land and they really want to take care of it.
Ted Simons: And here now, to talk about ‘100 years, 100 ranchers', which by the way, has been designated an Official State Centennial Legacy project, is photographer Scott Baxter.
Ted Simons: Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Scott Baxter: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Why ranchers? What led you to this?
Scott Baxter: It was quiet serendipitous. Twelve - 13 years ago, I was up in the White Mountains, fly fishing and I was fishing outside a ranch and a friend of mine said you have to pay for the fish and I said I don't want to do it. The people down there are really great. And I went there in Apache and I met granddaughter of Molly and john Butler. We settled at Holy Valley area. And over a few years, I just spent time with Wank and she's got a museum and my BA is in History. So we kind of struck a friendship and just by spending time with her and her sister and another rancher over there, I got the feeling that this thing was changing and this was kind of it. I came up with this idea probably around 2000 or 2001. I've kind of been working on it since 1999, but then I thought what if I shoot a 100 of them?
Ted Simons: Did you that it would lead to this many years, this much work, this much travel? Di you know that in the beginning?
Scott Baxter: No. Bob Barrett who is a rancher at the Love Lake ranch, I met him in 2000. I spoke at a meeting in the Ohako ranch and he came with me afterwards and he said, Scott, bet this fun, taking pictures and all. And it took a life of its own. But it's been a great, great trip.
Ted Simons: Was there a point in the process, because when you start, you get a lot of ideas. And you kind of go along thinking it's going to work or it's not going to work. When did you know it was going to work?
Scott Baxter: A good friend of mine, Mike Campbell, who did my logo and everything. A few years ago I had gone through a rough patch. I had not worked for aboyt three and a half years. He called me up one day and said - hows it going? And I said I am doing this and he asked me to sell it to him. He wanted me to shoot it, but he wanted me to sell him the rights to the project. He said give me an estimate. So I did an estimate, went back to his office and said - but I don't want to sell this. He said - good, I don't want you to sell it. I just want you to do it.
Ted Simons: So would you -
Scott Baxter: He was kind of, lighting a fire.
Ted Simons: Yeah.
Scott Baxter: And at that point I realized that I am going to do this. And he helped me go through the legacy status and from that point on --- I was actually committed in 2006 and that was because I had a rancher, the flying UW, Walt Meyer and his wife. I was there, this was before being affiliated with a nonprofit. When I left their ranch, he folded up a check and stuck it in my hand and told me he believed in me.

Ted Simons: That's something.

Scott Baxter: When they shake your hand and look you in the eye, I'm going to finish this.

Ted Simons: I wanted to ask you what you learned from being around these folks. There's one of those, you tell me yes, we agree and that's as good as gold, right?

Scott Baxter: Right, many of them, especially with each other, do their deals on a handshake. The ones I spoke to said they don't even do paperwork. It's their handshake and reputation is everything to them. That's one thing I learned. Finish what you start.

Ted Simons: Yeah, did you find yourself ever getting in the way or worried about getting in the way?

Scott Baxter: Not really, in the video piece I spoke about when you're out branding and there's a lot of action and I'm always -- I ask a lot of questions and make sure I'm not in the way and they're usually really good about saying, Scott, come over here, stand over here. But I'm cognizant not to screw things up for them.

Ted Simons: In the video, you talk about how you look at a shot and you look at a photograph. I'm interested in this, in whether or not you saw the Sycamore tree and said that's a photograph or when -- I mean, or did you not know that was going to be a winner until you had them stand next to it? Do you see it in your mind's eye or the lens and that's it?

Scott Baxter: The project is that -- people ask me that a lot. I never know what I'm going to do when I walk into a ranch. I go in with an open mind. I look around, get ideas but for me it's more of a emotional thing.
Ted Simons: This shot here and this one here, did you know those hands had to be a photograph or did you find them and say, that's it?

Scott Baxter: We were waiting to gather cattle and this is The Ohako cattle company outside of Winslow and this is Jim Ohako who owns the ranch, his hands, and I was talking to him and his ranch manager and shooting portraits of them and when you looked -- it's not rocket science.

Ted Simons: You know it when you see it.

Scott Baxter: Exactly.

Ted Simons: And another photograph here, it's got great line in the video, got to be an easy thing to look at.

Scott Baxter: This is probably one of my favorite photographs I took and this is an great example what you're asking. A friend of mine said -- there are quiet moments before you shoot and after you're done that sometimes provide a good image. I was done, I wanted the tree in, and we were done and that's John Hayes, the state legislator and speaking with his daughter and I had four frames left and end of the day and I didn't have anymore film and that was it.

Ted Simons: That's something. Black and white, large format, why?

Scott Baxter: Everything from a six-by-six negative -- for the large format stuff, that allows me to slow down and really dive in. Sometimes people -- they'll slow down too and they'll look at the camera and you can converse more. You don't have to look through a camera like a 35, you can get it framed up and stand to the side and speak with them a little bit.

Ted Simons: As far as the texture of the black and white, you get those down and they're just gorgeous.

Scott Baxter: It's like I was saying, hard to explain, but there's a depth to a black and white photograph that I don't feel you get in a digital photograph.

Ted Simons: Is this project now complete?

Scott Baxter: It's -- the photographing of the ranchers is complete and we're in the process of producing the prints and having them framed at Sky Harbor airport.

Ted Simons: That's the first exhibit?

Scott Baxter: Yes sir.

Ted Simons: What's next?

Scott Baxter: I dovetailed off this project and just beginning and shot a few tests and tentatively called top hand but I want to do a cowboy project. But not rodeo cowboys. I want to the do working ranch cowboys and I've met some. And it may not just be Arizona, it may be throughout the west. And that's my goal to work on that.

Ted Simons: Before this started, didn't sound like you were much of a cowboy, but I'm guessing you have a new appreciation for ranching by now.

Scott Baxter: I'd always ridden horses but I actually worked with a rancher who is the best in the business and I had someone who taught me to learn how to be safe on a horse so I feel comfortable out there, but I didn't ride much on this project, I'm standing on the ground making sure I'm not knocked over.
Ted Simons: Last question: Are you concerned about the future of ranching in Arizona?

Scott Baxter: Yes, it's a very -- a lot of my fourth generation ranchers are the last ones in a lot of cases. The young kids will go on and we've got great ones out there. But a lot of them, their kids, the quote is the work is too hard and you can't make enough money.

Ted Simons: You've done great work here. Congratulations and best of luck to you.

Scott Baxter: Thank you.

Scott Baxter:Photographer;

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