Karoliina Paatos: The American Cowboy
What compels a photographer from Finland to make work about the American West? Seven years ago, Karoliina Paatos began to make photographs in Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon in search of the American cowboy. Over the years, she built a series that is at once cinematic, majestic, and intimate, using landscape and portraits to define the brutality, isolation, and beauty of the cowboy life. This work has recently been published by The Angry Bat, a Ljubljana-based publisher. The book itself, The American Cowboy is beautifully crafted with a sewn linen cover and an open spine revealing photographs of “found moments, found people, and found objects” gathered from years of immersion observing this unique culture that so defines man and nature.
Karoliina Paatos is a Finnish photographer based both in her home country and the USA. During the past ten years, she has covered subjects all over the world for the biggest magazines and newspapers in Finland. She works on her own personal long term projects and frequently exhibits them both in solo and group shows as well as in artist’s books. Her first monograph, American Cowboy, published by The Angry Bat was recently released. Paatos has studied in Aalto University’s graduate programs in Photography and Documentary Film and is currently in University of Arizona’s MFA program. Paatos was PDN‘s student category winner in 2015 with her series Rodeo Queer.
Calfs are born into the snow, dust is so fine you can see insect tracks. It takes hours to reach a grocery store. The sky over the treeless land is covered by sagebrush and seems beyond measure, the light is unbearably beautiful. Here both people and plants are few and far apart to gather the needs for their sustenance.
I have been following closely a community of cattle ranchers and cowboys in northern Nevada, southern Idaho and Oregon for nearly seven years. I live long periods of time on the ranches helping with the chores and becoming part of the everyday life. My method is to dwell and linger to catch essential moments and the spaces between them.
Romance and harshness is branded in the visual image of a cowboy. The prevailing idea is still a lonesome twenty-something rascal moving from one camp to another whereas my cowboys are men, women and families. Draught, high land prices and changes happening in the cattle industry are making this lifestyle nearly impossible to continue as it has been.
Presently I follow more closely two little girls growing up in this very masculine world that is not striving. I want to see the change through the lives of these cowboy girls. My journey continues alongside them into their adulthood.
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