Photographing the Cowgirl Life with Barbara Van Cleve
For our 6th episode of the On Land podcast, Amber Smith hosts a conversation with renowned Western photographer and fifth generation Montana rancher Barbara Van Cleve. Barbara has spent her career photographing the American West, inspired largely by a lifetime spent on her family’s ranch, the Lazy K Bar, just east of the Crazy Mountains in southwest Montana.
Barbara’s work is held in private and public collections across the country and the globe. She has been the subject of documentaries, news stories, and has published several books throughout the years, including most recently Pure Quill, a collection of photographs from her remarkable career and the stories behind them. Since her first major exhibition in the fall of 1985, Barbara has had over 60 solo shows and over 100 group shows. Currently, she has a gallery showing at the Western Heritage Center in Billings, Montana.
Barbara holds an MA in English Literature from Northwestern University, and she taught English Literature and photography for over 25 years at universities in the Chicago area, becoming the youngest Dean of Women in the United States, all while spending her summers back home working at the ranch.
For her entire life, Barbara Van Cleve has pushed up against the limits that society has imposed on women, especially in the rural West, choosing instead to forge her own path with the same steady determination that is a theme throughout her career: ranching, teaching and sharing the stories of women in ranching, including her own. In 1995, Barbara was inducted into the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, in Fort Worth, Texas.
2:30 – Amber introduces Barbara and describes the mission of the Women in Ranching program
3:45 – Barbara shares her story growing up on a Montana ranch and seeking a career in photography
4:50 – Barbara shares a story about younger family using ATVs vs horses for ranch work
5:50 – Barbara’s dad on work ethic
6:10 – Asking for a camera when she was a young child wanting to share the ranching lifestyle
7:15 – Getting an education and becoming a teacher
9:00 – Why Barbara chose not to marry
9:40 – Amber mentions the false narrative of a womanless West
10:15 – Barbara describes the changes she’s seen in ranching life
11:00 – Calving in January in Montana
11:30 – The notion of efficiency in ranching
13:20 – Defining stewardship and preserving the land
14:40 – Barbara talks about the plant-based food movement
15:30 – The need for balanced nutrition
16:00 – The problem with fast food and highly processed foods
16:50 – Amber recites part of a song by cowboy poet Jesse Ballantyne
17:51 – The importance of equal opportunities in women in ranching
18:40 – Barbara cracks Amber up
Links from this episode
Barbara’s website: https://www.barbaravancleve.com/
Barbara’s gallery show: Women Ranchers: The Photography of Barbara Van Cleve, Western Heritage Center, Billings, MT from June – September 2021.