Andy Anderson Answers the Call of the Owyhee Canyonlands
By Missy Hunter
As we shelter in place, many find the time to return to some personal projects. In Andy Anderson‘s case, he only needs to step out his back door in Southwestern Idaho to pick up where he left off in documenting the majesty of the Owyhee Canyonlands of Idaho-Oregon-Nevada — ION country, as the locals call it. Glance at his imagery, and you will see the rawness of this part of the country and Andy’s love of the land. We knew the images were rich with history, lessons, and experiences, so we asked Andy to share.
The Wildest Place Left in the Lower 48
The Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness, with a portion of it now protected land, covers more than 2.5 million acres, with many referring to it as the “the wildest place left in the lower 48.” Having lived in this part of Idaho for almost 30 years, Andy has spent quite a bit of time exploring the area creating aerial shots of the canyons, capturing the eternal landscapes, the animals, and the lifestyle of the people who frequent the area. Curiosity fuels Andy’s photography, and it’s wilderness areas like this that makes him want to “document part of this country before it is gone.”
Andy has always been intrigued by this area, “This ongoing project is something I have wanted to finish, and this year, because of the Pandemic, I spent a lot of time finding more images for this personal project.”
Given that he’s been documenting this area for years, and the vastness of the region, we wondered if Andy has a checklist of things he has yet to see and record. His response, “I always used to use checklists, but as we all know, sometimes, they can get in the way of the serendipity of the moment. So I got rid of lists and just tried to be present and ready for the best shots.”
This time, a significant part of Andy’s trip back to the Owyhee Canyonlands was in accompanying ranchers, whom he’s known for 20+ years, to do their spring calf branding. Tent camping and living off the land is the perfect solution for today’s need for social distancing. From the horses to the tents, to the food, it appears that Andy traveled back in time to the American Old West and he is documenting history. “The Great Basin cowboys are unlike any other cowboy throughout the West. The terrain is extremely remote and raw. The tradition of going out on the wagon is something that only happens here in the ION because of the cattle’s remoteness — they have proven difficult to find.” Andy shares that this trip predominately happens in the late spring or early summer as this is when the calves are born and hence the need to be branded. One can observe that the American West traditions are still alive and well when witnessing the ceremonial remuda, where each cowboy chooses their mount for the next day and in seeing the use of teepees’ for camping.
Andy is always seeking this sense of honesty and integrity when making images, contributing to his storytelling. When asked how the use of black and white photography played into telling this particular story, Andy shared that black and white is a forgiving medium, especially when it comes to the lighting you can find in the Owyhee Canyonlands. “Shooting in harsh lighting is never fun, so I just literally embraced the moment. It seems to work.”
On a commercial shoot, where there are many content requirements, a shot list is usually in order. We wondered if the same was true when you were trying to maneuver through “traffic” of cowboys roping and branding 50-200 calves in a day. Andy reports that he just winged it when getting the shots. Raised with horses as a very young kid, Andy feels entirely at home riding in a saddle, so he did his fair share of riding during this trip. Inquiring minds wanted to know if Andy tried his hand at roping a calf. His hilarious response was, “NO, I cannot throw a loop; I know my limitations!”
Follow Andy on Instagram to see his imagery, the result of his limitless curiosity.