Casterline | Goodman Gallery - David Yarrow
Anguilla – 2022
In my deliberation over the Pirates in the Caribbean project, there were two overriding personal filters. The first was to avoid being formulaic and the second was my sense that it would be commercial suicide to be too earnest. Pirates are mythological figures and whilst what they did was very serious, I was only too aware of the dangers of us taking ourselves too seriously in any revisionist portrayal. We should have fun; just as Disney did with their blockbuster franchise.
The pirates we had assembled in Anguilla looked the part and our giant canvas of the pirate boat offered the best context in the background. The key building blocks were in place on this set, we just needed ‘the x factor’. I played with half a dozen ideas to complete the story in the foreground and there was one concept that seemed to stand out - the arriving pirates must have an encounter.
Encounters represent a dilemma for still photographers who can’t do “over the shoulder two takes”. We have the one chance and that tends to mean that we lose one face. But I saw how we could use that to our advantage in that anonymity might work if it told a story.
Daniela Braga, the Brazilian Victoria’s Secret model and a sweetheart, was on set with us. She is smart, fun loving and she fully embraced the idea I had in mind.
I think the photograph works well. As someone wryly said, those pirates who lost an eye must have been cursing themselves.
The Sheriff ’s Daughter
Montana, USA – 2022
The intricate layout for this picture was preconceived before I went to bed the previous night. I knew that as soon as the sun rose above the buildings the light would be too harsh to work and that there could be no time for compositional pondering during the shoot. The camera angle needed flat light not aggressive shadows and the weather forecast suggested that we would need to be finished no later than 8:15 am.
So, it was cold conditions when the cast began assembling at 6.15am. Josie Canseco - a girl I often use in shoots - is tough and she showed it that morning. We know each other well and we can swear at each other without offence. It was minus 20 degrees on set and she wasn’t wearing much but that is how Josie rolls. I like familiarity; to call on new talent that I did not know for a shoot like this would have been commercial suicide.
We did indeed wrap by 8.10am, just before the sun started to dart around the set. This photograph is a keeper. I can look at it for a long time without losing interest and that is always my acid test. There was so much information to include in one still frame without losing Josie’s sovereignty and we all needed to work very quickly because I was racing against the rising sun. The whole team did a great job that day.
I do think Westerns have been too male dominated, almost to the point of parody, and in my anthology to the Wild West, there is much more of a balance. We have, however, been most selective with the women we have used. They have all been blockbuster women with presence, intelligence and attitude; no more so than the Sheriff ’s daughter in this image.
But I am making no major point in this image; I am having fun and telling stories. There are no lofty ambitions other than to entertain and execute well.
The Quick and The Dead
Montana, USA - 2022
In my experience, the most visually pleasing single street wild west towns in America are found in the states of California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Montana. There are no real secrets here, which is why film studios tend to focus on five or six specific locations.
There is a skew in my work towards shooting in Montana for two reasons: firstly, I have a far more established network of contacts and friends in Western Montana than in the states further south who can all help me find extras or indeed sometimes jump onto set themselves; secondly our Montana locations are exposed to the highest snowfalls and I like to work in the snow, it simply adds another layer of narrative, especially in monochrome images.
This photograph, shot near the Crazy Mountain at the old Marlboro Ranch in Montana, incorporates the greatest number of extras I have had on set during a shoot- about 120 all in. The logistics in the cold are challenging and then the execution of the idea requires precision as I want to see as many faces as possible and I want those faces to have a collective attitude. It seemed necessary to have women and children in the scene as if the whole town was watching the shoot out - this would not be a male dominated western vignette.
In order for the concept to have symmetry, I needed to incorporate the buildings on both sides of the street and this is where - at the margin - this location is the best I know because the street is narrow enough for a wide panoramic.
I always say to the cast ahead of workdays involving many people, that all it takes is one person to be looking the wrong way or behaving oddly for the photograph to be ruined. They are all being paid to focus and concentrate for no more than five minutes during the day, but those are a big five minutes. The cast that day from old to young were brilliant and that is why this photograph works.
There is a lot going on in this work - which is why I love seeing it in as large a format as possible.
It Was The Whiskey Talking
Montana, USA – 2022
Whilst the Wild West was no doubt a heavily mythologized era, there can be no doubt that both the level of wanton violence and whiskey consumption were for real. They also, no doubt, played off each other and my sense is that in the colder frontier towns, the relationship was even tighter.
Scouting for sites around the Crazy Mountain Ranch in Montana, I saw some potential with this angle outside the old saloon, if I chose to compress the depth a little. It is though the wolf that makes the photograph; those eyes have an unmistakable intent. Focus is the most important verb in my kind of photography as it serves to either deliberately include or deliberately exclude. In this way, the viewer is directed without the wider contextual story being lost.
My cowboy - Ryan Marshall - does not need to do much more than stand there to add to the image; he may be way out of the focal plane, but we all know exactly the kind of character he is playing. This looks like a formidable saloon.
Montana, USA - 2022
The VS model Josie Canseco is a regular muse for me in my wild west series; the camera loves her and she knows how I work. This photograph in the Crazy Mountain Ranch near Livingston, Montana was made by a late shaft of evening light giving Josie and the wolf a warm glow and allowing them both to pop out from
the saloon behind.
Our shoot in the faux wild west frontier town would not have been possible without the support of Sam Byrne and his team at the Yellowstone Club. Under their ownership, the Crazy Mountain Ranch looks set to have an exciting future and I hope the series of photographs I took that day in February 2022 will find their way onto some walls in the wider Montana area.
The Iron Horse II
Durango, Colorado, USA - 2021
The iron horse was as vital to the push west in America as the horse itself. The railroads linked the west to the nation as a whole and steam engines added a glamorous component to the wild west visual narrative.
In researching my anthology to this period in American history, I was - as a romanticist - drawn towards these railroads. The research led us to the famous Durango to Silverton steam train in Colorado, partly because the track runs through the most dramatic of landscapes, but also because the narrow gauge track service remains largely the same as it was when the railroad opened in 1882. The iron horses themselves are authentic and in excellent working order.
We want to thank the owners of the train for collaborating with us on this project. We scouted for two days and then shot for a further two. Some of the staff were kind enough to say that this photograph is the most powerful they have ever seen of this famous train journey high in the Colorado mountains. I don’t know about that, but it is certainly my strongest image for many a month.
I knew as soon as I took the picture that we had something and I have many people to thank - in particular the horse owners and cowboys. Positioning horses by a cliff edge with a steam engine coming around the corner requires top professionals and that is exactly what we had. This was not a location for those suffering from vertigo.
The key decision was to place a lone outlaw on the right hand of the track giving the frame compositional balance and despite his anonymity, his presence makes the photograph even more powerful.
I hope a few of these prints find homes in Colorado - that would make me very happy.
Old Man and the Sea
Anguilla and South Africa- 2022
“He no longer dreamed of stormes, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife, he only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach” – Earnest Hemmingway- The Old Man and the Sea- 1952
The success of The Old Man and the Sea - Hemingway’s last novel - made him an international celebrity. The book, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953, tells the story of Santiago, an ageing, experienced fisherman who has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish.
In the famous prose copied above, the lions symbolise Santiago’s lost youth as well as his pride (a group of lions being a “pride”). In this way, the lions also symbolise Santiago’s affinity with nature. Now that Santiago is no longer young, and has lost his friends, family, and strength, he sees the lions only in his dreams.
I have long wanted to tell this story in my own way, with the lions I work with in Kevin Richardson’s sanctuary, of which I am proud to be an ambassador. My friendship with Kevin goes back a long way and the mutual trust allows us to explore creative ideas that would otherwise be over ambitious.
When shooting a composite image like this, I prefer to shoot almost sequentially; the longer the gap and the moment can be lost. I saw an opportunity in January 2022 to shoot the beach scene in the Caribbean and then within the week complete the job in South Africa.
We were in Anguilla working on our Pirates of the Caribbean project and Hemingway was never far from my mind, after all Cuba, where he wrote and located the book, was less than 1000 miles away. Early on in our Anguilla adventure, I met Tasha, an old Rastafarian fisherman boasting the longest hair I had ever seen in a man and I knew immediately that he was my Santiago.
He was a filmmaker’s gold so long as you caught him before his first strong joint of the day, around 6.30 am, but luckily that was exactly the time I wanted to shoot in order to eliminate directional ambient light.
My guidance to Tasha was to look like he was half awake and dreaming. There has never been an easier direct to an actor in film history as this is after all his default position. With little trouble, I left the Caribbean with my first piece of the jigsaw.
Only five days later we were in South Africa and an enormous canvas from my shoot with ‘Santiago’ had already been erected in the veldt. In front of the canvas the production team had made a beach resembling the white beaches of Anguilla. I recognise that over the years, production has become easier as we work with the very best of the best wherever we go and it does make a difference.
The final piece of the jigsaw was the hardest. Hemingway talked of lions - not a single lion - and I knew therefore that I needed two male lions in the frame if my interpretation of Santiago’s dream was to be pure.
Kevin walks his lions out most days, so they were used to early morning exercise; the only change this time was that there was a third party in a cage and a beach 100 miles from Pretoria - a first for Transvaal!
The end result gives me pleasure. It tells the story of The Old Man and the Sea as well as I could have hoped.