I received an email from someone I haven’t seen in almost thirty years. I met him on a movie set, a movie I was filming in Arizona that was originally called Jackals, but ended up being released under the name of American Justice. When I’m working, I tend to focus on the task at hand to the exclusion of all else (just ask my wife, who has given up saying anything of any importance to me while I’m at my desk), so all I really remembered of the man was his name and a walrus moustache. But while I barely remembered the man, his work was and is and always will be unforgettable.
I should have paid more attention to Jay Dusard at the time because it is highly unlikely that I will ever meet another Guggenheim Fellowship winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee, and it is even more unlikely that I will ever meet another Guggenheim Fellowship winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee who has made his living as a working cowboy and still goes out to punch cows with old friends, and who also happens to play jazz cornet.
Jay Dusard has documented the world of the working cowboy in black-and-white photography for over four decades, but to call him a photographer is like calling Rembrandt a painter or Ray Hunt a horse trainer. It’s factually true, it touches the basics of the thing, but it misses the mark by a wide margin. Jay is an artist whose medium happens to be black-and-white photography using a high resolution (eight-by-ten) camera, and the result is images that do for today’s cowboys what Frederic Remington and Charlie Russell did for the eighteen-hundreds, what Charlie Dye and Joe Beeler and John Hampton and other members of the Cowboy Artists of America did for the twentieth century.
There are artists working today to document cowboy life at the beginning of the twenty-first century (Bruce Greene, Karmel Timmons, Tim Cox, and others) and there are other photographers too, but Jay Dusard’s work is in a league of its own, in part because of the quality of his work and in part because of the unique portraiture style he uses, cowboys gazing directly out at the viewer much as John Singer Sargent’s aristocratic Edwardian and Belle Époque ladies do. They are portraits that capture not only the essence of the working cowboy’s life and the tools of his trade, but also the personality of each man or woman, and the unique vastness of the landscape that shapes their lives.
Click on the site below and check out his work. As an old cowboy actor once said to me, “If you don’t like that, you don’t like chocolate cake.”