#WesternWomenWednesday, Mary Williams Hyde, Buckaroo Country Photography
It never ceases to amaze me how art can bring attention to an event that, otherwise, would be overlooked. Artists find gems among mounds of opinions and emotions and perceived waste. Mary Williams Hyde has made a living promoting a lifestyle, a culture, an occupation that extends beyond a mere paycheck. She finds the gems that most expertly trained photographers overlook. Mary works to give visual voice and graphic representation to the working cowboy. Read on to find out how she documented, in her storytelling medium of choice, a sale Ian Tyson made famous with his song, MC Horses.
As a story teller myself, I am intrigued by a few other layers. Do you know why Ian was at Stockman’s (Elko, Nevada) when this conversation took place? The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Do you know who he was talking to? Jesse Smith, a cowboy poet that once lived in Lake County but now resides in Wyoming.
From what I am told, poets Ross Knox, former MC jigger boss, and Leon Flick, long time Plush resident, provided much of the background information Ian used in the song. Want to take that a step further? There is much controversy surrounding Banjo, even among cowboys present at the sale, but a friend of mine’s dad had that horse in his string at one point.
Beyond all of this (cool) history stuff, I have a debt of gratitude in play here. If it were not for Mary, I would never have taken photography seriously. It was always a “required skill” for people to read my writing or buy products I had created. Now, taking photos is a true joy in my life and financially supports my family. Mary, using your wisdom to direct someone towards a new career path is the epitome of the #WesternWomenWednesday movement. Thank you.
I raise my glass that the next generation of writers, performers, photographers, artists, gear makers and more take as much pride and care in preserving our traditions and sharing those stories with others through modern technology as Mary has. Cheers!
1. Name. Age. Location.
Mary Williams Hyde. 72. Klamath Falls, Oregon
2. How did you get into photography?
I had to learn how to take photos of new and used cars and open houses for my job as a classified ad salesperson at the local paper. I started that job in 1972 and had to develop my skills even further when I moved to the retail ad sales department. I was fortunate that I was mentored by national class news photographers who did the film processing for the ad department and helped us with issues like having to take photos of open houses and autos at the wrong time of day. I also learned how to take portraits in all kinds of poorly lit situations. I still use techniques I learned from them today.
3. How prominent were "ranch photographers" when you started attending brandings, ranch rodeos, etc?
My dad died in the late 1980's and I inherited all his Nikon camera equipment. I grew up on a ranch at the edge of the Great Basin (sagebrush plus pine trees), and he loved to load up the car with one or more of his children and take us for trips into the desert (sagebrush) which I learned to love with all my heart. Until 2005 I shot with his film camera and, due to the high cost of film processing, I didn’t take that many photos and it was rare to have another photographer present. An example would be the dispersal of the MC Remuda. I photographed both days of the event and ended up being the "event photographer” that they called upon to take the crew photo at the end of the sale. During the transition between film and digital camera, there were still not that many people showing up with cameras at events. Early digital cameras weren’t very fast and were not good for indoor arena photography like the “Californios” event. No one got very good photos in those days and the few of us out there were often very frustrated with the results of our work. Fortunately for me, I followed in the footsteps of photographers like Ken Otto, who had been using digital cameras longer than I had, who kindly shared tips with me that really helped. As digital cameras improved and cell phones and easy- to-use video cameras became affordable alternatives to cameras, more and more people of all skill levels began showing up at the ranch rodeos, though not so much at the ranches where I am usually, but not always, the only photographer. My uncle, Dayton Hyde, was a well known rodeo photographer in the late 40s and early 50s and he would be the only photographer, so things have really changed. Today the competition to be the “event photographer” is fierce as so many photographers enjoy trying to capture the wild action of ranch rodeo events. The result is the sale of photos for any one photographer is greatly impacted and rodeo photography no longer is very lucrative. The exception is those rodeo photographers who take a bank of computers and at least one staff member to provide onsite sales. I think they do better than any of us who can’t provide that service.
4. People are often surprised that you also work in web and graphic design. How did you develop these skills and what importance have they had to your business?
In the early 1960’s I attended the University of Nevada in Reno for three years where I majored in fine art. Then, after a failed marriage, and with three little children to support, I went to work for the local newspaper, where I was first paid a little more than $4 an hour. I worked there for 15 years. We had to design our own ads, write our own copy, take our own photos, and learn every aspect of properly preparing our ads for printing. The newspaper gave us excellent training and I had the opportunity to learn from master ad salesmen. After 15 years I was burnt out on ad sales, always a high pressure job, and went back to school to finish my BS degree, then my MS Degree at Southern Oregon University. I again majored in fine art and also in communication. I have had almost 50 individual or group showings of my contemporary-style fine art. In 1990 I open my own ad agency-style business. I struggled for many years trying to make it successful but was eventually overwhelmed by staffing and equipment expenses, and that business failed. From that day on I worked much more successfully, mostly by myself. I have kept up with constantly changing technology by making myself learn how to do web design, the newest graphic design trends, and the complicated professional desktop publishing software I use. My fine art training and my newspaper experience are the foundation of my work. Besides graphic and web design, I specialize in tourism marketing, event promotion, book design, and commercial photography. Living as I do in a small town, I have to be a one-stop-shop for my clients. I also have clients all over the US thanks to the internet which means I can do work for clients without actually ever meeting them in person. At this moment I am finishing up a book about the history of the Oregon Caves for a local historian, later today I will work on the design of the award posters for the WSRRA Finals, and late today into the evening I will process more of the photos I took at last weekend’s Great Basin Buckaroo Gathering. Soon I have to begin work on the program for the WSRRA Finals. In October I will begin the design of a coffee table book for a famous horse trainer. I love my work, though keeping enough cash flow coming in is always a worry.
5. I love seeing your photographs from the MC Horse Sale, made famous by not only how the outfit was dispersed but also by Ian Tyson's song. Did you know it would be a historic milestone when you decided to go?
No I did not know that. The MC and the ZX ranches were the big ranches in this region and we all loved the old buckaroo lifestyle they preserved. So it was with great sadness and sense of loss that I went with my camera to photograph the sale. Thankfully, the ZX is still alive and well. There is a video on YouTube made of Ian Tysons MC song produced by someone who didn’t attend the sale which drives me crazy. She selected photos that do not represent the sale correctly at all. I hate that her history of this important sale is being seen by thousands of people who don’t have any idea that what they are seeing is not remotely connected to what actually happened.
6. What is your biggest piece of etiquette-type advice for folks wanting to photograph a branding?
Plan ahead for how to stay out of the way and not cause problems for the crew, everything from having 10-ply tires on a sturdy pickup so they don’t have to stop their work to fix my flat, to always staying on the sidelines while the crew does their work. I use a camera lens that allows me to do close up photos from a long ways away and I never go stand over a branding crew as they work on a calf. Also, while the crew gets their fire going, I go sit by the herd to let the cows get used to me, as most are not used to photographers sitting just outside the fence line. When the cattle are being brought in, I either stay in my pickup or I get into a horse trailer so that I don’t cause a stampede of the cattle. My goal is to become “invisible” to the crew and the cattle.
7. What kind of equipment would you suggest for someone just starting out?
I don’t know how to answer this question because, If I knew what I know now, I would have found a way to get pro equipment at the beginning rather than the end of my journey. A good camera, in my case a Nikon D4s, and the right lens for the job make a world of difference. I definitely recommend Lightroom and Photoshop for photo processing.
8. As someone who has freelanced for years, what kind of workflow have you established for consistent income and creative results?
I work seven days a week and try to do something productive that moves me forward every day. I set short term and long term goals, decide what I need to do to accomplish my goals, and then, like sewing a quilt, I do something toward that goal most every day. An example would be my Buckaroo Country documentary project. First I set my goal: photograph as many people who keep the old buckaroo/vaquero/Californios traditions. Then I made a plan for where I might find these people to photograph and started working my plan by showing up at a rodeo event in Paisley where I knew no one. One thing led to another and eventually I photographed hundreds of buckaroos at more than 300 events or ranches. Thankfully, doors are still opening for me because of the foundational work I did along the way. It would be easy to mess up and make myself unwelcome so I still try to be as careful and thoughtful as I can. I don’t procrastinate, though I do take regular power naps whenever I need to recharge!
9. Are you reading or listening to anything impactful at this time?
I don’t read books much anymore because I spend so much time on social media. I have several causes I am interested in and I try to compose thoughtful posts to lobby for what I believe should be considered as part of complex problem solving processes. An example would be I am really interested in sustainable management of wild horse herds. I think social media is being successfully used to change thinking about this volatile topic from overly emotional to much more practical solutions.
10. What is your favorite quote?
"Work before pleasure.” followed by “Take care of your animals before you take care of yourself."