George Kamper’s creative goal is to capture “a heroic moment”. In pursuit of that moment, he forged his way westward to shoot a romantic, cinematic series on cowboys. In this interview, George describes the journey and explains that “purple haze”.

The use of blue and purple haze in the series is really striking and unexpected. Combined with the yellow dust, it makes for an intriguing palette! Can you tell us more about your vision for this series?

I’ve learned that what you don’t show can be as important as what you do show. So, in the case of my “West” series, you see a lot of dust flying through the air and my attempt to diffuse and flatten the images with color, fog, and dust, while adding a wash of color to them. Perhaps like a painter might add a wash over his colors or canvas, to mute and blend the thoughts together. I think these images look like we shot them with an old motion picture camera that had some lens leaks that affected the film while shooting – perfect! We chose these particular colors for the warmth and humility they bring to the images. I wanted more of a painterly effect, as opposed to the crisp, clean sharpness that’s common when shooting digital. I work very closely with my retoucher Christine – we collaborate on the finishing of my images all the time, much more than typically, I think.

Non-models can often become stiff and uncomfortable in front of the camera – yet the charisma and personality of your subjects come through strongly in these images.

We were very fortunate with our talent. That morning my wife Sherryl had gone on a 3-hour horseback ride with the wranglers, so she had a chance to get to know them a little before we actually started shooting – I think that was helpful in getting them to feel comfortable in front of the camera. These guys did have fun, and they contributed their ideas to the shooting. I do shoot a lot of real people in my work, and I believe for this type of work it’s much more genuine and realistic.

Speaking of genuine and realistic, the West usually conjures up that stereotype of the old, grizzled, stoic cowboy. But your take is youthful, playful, and exuberant – without losing any of the cinematic drama and romance affiliated with this subject.

These are not your stereotypical Marlboro man cowboys and gals! These guys are the real deal. They do this everyday. I didn’t have to tell them how to hold the reigns, or tip their hat. This is their life, and I was fortunate to be able to capture a little of it. When you look in their eyes, you know this is a real moment for them – not just another pose.

This project was self-assigned, which means operating without the luxury of a big budget. How did you pull it off?

Many of my most successful images have been produced as a self-assignment, where I’m free to express myself outside the limitations of a “commercial” image. However, on a “commercial” shoot you always have the resources to shoot in any type of weather or adverse conditions. On a self assigned shoot, this can become quite daunting, and a major obstacle. I’ve been wanting to go out west to shoot cowboys and their environment for several years, but the cost of scouting, travel, production coordination, and crew seemed prohibitive. I finally found my way into a ranch with access to the hands that worked the ranch, and their environment through a workshop. Once there, we were able to shoot all the images with available light, being very selective as to the direction of the light and its quality, the lens selection, and shutter speeds. We did use bounce reflectors in several of the images, and experimented with motion as you can see in some of the images. I shot these on my own with no crew – just a couple volunteers that would hold up a reflector for me from time to time, and the help of my wife. The last image is of Sherryl, my wife, and I. She shot all the behind-the-scenes images. To take a look at the Found Folio Blog click here