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ZION NATIONAL PARK UTAH This image was made during the fall of 2015 in SW Utah. It was one of three parks that we visited on this tri...

Monday, July 20, 2009



-It's time to talk about a few of my Wyoming images.

Before I tell you my story about Kevin, I will simply say that this is not a pure photograph. It is mixed media. This image started as a silver sulfide print, but I added layers of transparent oils.

Shortly after moving to Wyoming I completed a series of hand-painted photographs because of the variety of bright colored rock to be found in this part of the country. It was a challenge, but it also enabled me to capture the red rock country which is so abundant throughout this area. I had worked with oils a bit when I was back in Virginia, so it was not a completely new medium for me.

I entered this framed work in the Wyoming Artist's Association annual art exhibition shortly after it was completed, and it took a Governor's Award. That is second place as I understood it. This was the more recent league that did not accept photography as fine art, but under protest, they set up a special category for me. To this day, I believe the two judges who were teaching workshops at this conference honesty thought it was a painting. Once again, I put my art where my mouth was.

Here is the story behind the scene:

Kevin McNiven 2001

There is a plaque that hangs in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming that reads:
The cowboy is a mythic character in America. We admire him for his independence, his honesty, his modesty and courage. He represents the best in all Americans as he stares down evil and says, “When you call me that, smile.”

More than one Wyomingite has told me that there are three things that you don’t criticize when you are talking to a cowboy: his hat, his horse and his wife. And in that exact order.

Some years ago, my wife and I were attending the local Cattlewomen’s Christmas party when we crossed trails with Kevin. The gals here in the Cowboy State used to refer to themselves as the Cow Belles. They have since become the Cattle Women's Association.

Following a dinner of roast beef and multiple desserts, plus a couple of quick stops at the two punch bowls resting behind the heavily laden table (the ranchers referred to these as leaded and unleaded) out strolled Kevin McNiven in full cowboy attire with a guitar under his arm. I grew up with cowboy singers such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and quite frankly, I did not know what to expect when this fellow ambled over to address the awaiting crowd. The ranchers obviously knew something that I didn't, and it only took a few moments for this cowboy singer to prove that he was as much at home in the midst of good folks as he was out on the range with horses and cattle.

The life of a cowboy has changed somewhat over the years, but ranching is still a tough business. There isn’t that much money in small spreads anymore, so many of today’s cowboys have had to look for supplemental income. Some, like Kevin, have maintained their cowboy status while working other jobs in addition to punching cows and training horses.

I learned a lot about Kevin that night. He was not only the genuine article, but also a world-class cowboy singer and yodeler. In fact, he recently won the world championship-yodeling contest that was held down in Tucson, Arizona. He also took a first place cowboy singing award. Is he good? You bet. It is seldom that we are treated to traditional artists of this caliber. I discovered that Kevin was a true horseman. He does not just ride horses; he lives horses and has done so all of his life. Like father, like son.

After asking for permission to make a few photographs, I later discovered that Kevin is also a professional horse trainer and maintains a sizable herd of horses for use in the motion picture business. In addition to supplying horses for various sets and background action, he often subs for the lead actors when the riding gets a little rough and risky. His expertise can be viewed in a historical production of Geronimo, which was released in 1993. He also appeared in a more recent film titled The Patriot. This production required that he transport his horses to South Carolina for three months while the filming was being completed.
I made the image you see here just outside of Lander, Wyoming atop a red rock out cropping that extends to the southwest of town and links with Red Canyon.

It is because of cowboys like Kevin McNiven that the cowboy spirit has had its place in shaping the history of America. Deep down, and within us all, there will always be an American Cowboy. That same spirit still lives on in Wyoming where the deer and the antelope still roam freely across the Great Divide.
Kevin has recorded a number of his songs, and you can check them out on his web site at:

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