My Photographic Memory
At the age of 21, I left a cowboy job paying $600 a month to become a field editor for a big livestock newspaper that paid a whopping $850. They gave me a camera and a car and told me to hit the road covering a three-state area devoid of cattle I was supposed to sell advertising, work ring, write sale reports and take photos.
I could handle the constant traveling and hated selling ads, but I could write pretty well. I eventually learned how to work ring, but the camera remained a foreign object to me. I didn’t know an f-stop from a truck stop and I still don’t. I’ve always hated taking photos or having photos taken of me.
One could say I have a photographic memory… and the memories are all bad.
My least favorite part of the job was going to stock shows, watching the judging and taking photos of the winners, hoping to sell ads afterwards featuring the photos I took. Invariably, I ended up having to borrow decent photos from fellow road agents because my pictures never turned out.
I eventually quit because I couldn’t see spending my life waiting for some bull to get his back straight, his ears forward and his back legs positioned so one could see his gearbox, so to speak.
When I started in the business in 1973, the favorite flavor was long and tall, so when I’d go to a breeder’s place to take photos, I’d lay on the ground looking up at the bull to make him appear taller. It was an extremely dangerous job because I could lay in a red ant hole or fresh cow pie, and if a bull got snuffy after I’d chased him around for 45 minutes waiting for him to set his feet right, I was in an especially vulnerable position laying there on the ground.
I finally decided if I was going to get run over by bulls for a living, I might as well become a rancher or a rodeo clown and become semi-famous for something.
I still have nightmares of my worst photographic memory. Now, one must understand the dream of all good cow photographers is to take a fabulous shot of a really popular bull.
Many may have noticed the great photographers put their names in their photos directly under, how should I say this, right under the bull’s sheath – I never put my name on any photos because with my luck, the bull would appear to be peeing all over my good name.
Because I lived in the same proximity, I frequently had the honor of taking photos of perhaps the greatest Hereford bull in America at the time. If I ever did get a good shot, my name would be in every livestock newspaper in the land.
The bull was affectionately called “Lerch” by his owner. I suppose this was because he looked like he was put together by a committee. Lerch may have been ugly, but he produced fabulous offspring, including National Western Stock Show Grand Champions.
Lerch used to enjoy toying with me for hours on end. It takes two and sometimes three people to get a good bovine photo. Besides the photographer, there’s the hazer who walks behind the bull trying to get him to set his legs right, and the third specialist shakes a can of rocks so the bull will put both ears forward. There’s nothing as ugly as a bull or horse with one ear back.
On the rare occasions when Lerch would get his feet set properly, he’d put an ear back or vice versa. I was excited once after a photo session with Lerch thinking I got “the photo,” so I rushed home and waited for the photos to come back from the drugstore.
The photo was a crime against photography. The feet were just right and the ears were forward, but there was a big power pole shooting right up the middle of him from the ground up that made him look like a bull popsicle, or Lerchsicle, as the case may be.
Lerch never did get tired of the game or attempt to run me over. In fact, we became the best of friends. Perhaps it was fitting then that to the best of my knowledge, no one ever took a decent photo of Lerch, or of myself for that matter.